It was early morning 20 years ago today when McComb native Celia Barrett had the closest call of her life, and a rescheduled meeting was the difference between life and death.
Barrett, who has worked as an interior designer in Mississippi and New York City for over three decades, had a meeting scheduled at the World Trade Center on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, between 8:30 and 9 a.m. — the day and time of the terrorist attack that changed America forever.
“It was an accident,” she said, noting that her client’s secretary called her to push the meeting back without realizing her boss was going to be on time anyway. “I got a call that my client would need to reschedule until noon, but she actually didn’t need to, so I got a second call to come when I was ready a few minutes later.”
Instead of going to the meeting, Barrett went to an upholsterer’s shop to tend to her client’s project.
“I watched the work get done and obviously I never made it to the towers,” Barrett said. “Thirty minutes earlier and I would’ve been there.”
More than 3,000 people died that day and the effects have rippled throughout the years. The United States military pulled out of Afghanistan last month, 20 years after invading the country that was harboring the terrorist network behind the attacks.
Luckily for Barrett, she was several miles away from the World Trade Center at an upholstery shop. She said she was with the owner of the shop at the time when she got a call from her husband asking if she was OK.
“We turned on a little TV, and we watched the second plane hit the tower,” she said. “It was odd. It didn’t hit until the next day. I went into this daze for the rest of the day.
“It was unreal. It kind of takes my breath away when I think about it,” she said. “When you were there in the middle of it was a numbing affect. You just did not accept what was going on. I still avoid contemplation because it is painful. I have an overwhelming sadness for those who lost their lives for no reason other than hate of the United States. It makes no sense.”
She left in the afternoon, walking more than four miles from the upholster’s shop to her apartment on West 23rd Avenue, which was about three miles from the World Trade Center.
“When I was walking down, everyone was walking north, and I was walking south. Practically no one else was walking south with me,” Barrett said. “Every couple of people had dust on their clothes or faces, and they were like zombies. It was totally quiet. You only hear the sound of fighter jets fly over. It was very odd.”
She said she later spoke with the client that she was supposed to meet with.
“I told her, ‘I probably would’ve survived if I came because I would’ve been with you,’ and she said, ‘No, we would’ve been in the Windows of the World, a restaurant in the towers, for breakfast,” Barrett said. “No one made it that was there, so I thank God I have been given the life that I have had.”
She said her husband spent hours on the phone with Amtrak to get her a ride out of the city. He snagged a ticket for Jacksonville, Fla., which she later learned was the last train out of the city that day.
“When I got on the train in Manhattan, barely anyone else got on, but when we stopped at Newark, everyone got on,” she said. “I noticed some men in normal clothing with dogs, and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s nice they let them bring their pets on.’ It took me a few minutes to realize they were actually bomb sniffers.”
The attack left scars on everyone it touched both physically and mentally and Barrett was not untouched herself.
“I don’t travel on 9/11 and I will never again get on a plane on 9/11,” she said.
Her husband was from New York. She lived there for over 20 years and split her time at an office in Jackson, where her husband was on the day of the attack.
Barrett said her brothers-in-law were equally lucky, both being cops but one had retired a short time before the attack and another had called in sick that day.
Barrett said she worked in the World Trade Center often and misses the structure to this day.
“I miss the towers themselves. They were amazing buildings,” she said. “I was there all the time and you never think of anything so horrific would happen where you are standing.”
As America remembers the 20th anniversary of the attacks this weekend, Barrett can’t forget them.
“It’s painful but I never want to forget,” she said.