Portsmouth reflects on the victims and survivors of the September 11 terror attacks 20 years on

EVERYONE remembers where they were when New York’s Twin Towers crumbled.

Saturday, 11th September 2021, 4:55 am
(left) Melanie de Vere with her mother Margaret Owen at a friend's barbecue not long before Melanie left for New York in 2001, where she was killed in the September 11 attacks. air in the background is removed from the picture

For many it’s a nightmarish image that remains as vivid now as it was 20 years ago.

In that single moment, the course of history was changed forever. It led to a war in Afghanistan that ended ignominiously only weeks ago, having cost the lives of countless thousands.

And although the September 11 attacks in 2001 took place in America, Portsmouth was not immune to the waves of devastation caused by the 19 suicide attackers.

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Now, two decades on from the tragedy, The News is reflecting on the heartbreaking fallout 9/11 had on the area.

For Margaret Owen, it was the moment she lost her beloved daughter, Melanie.

Mrs Owen, formerly of Anchorage Park, Portsmouth, was watching the TV as the Twin Towers fell – not knowing that her 30-year-old daughter had been inside.

Melanie had only just arrived in New York to begin a dream job with a leading magazine producer when the tragedy happened.

Speaking two years after her daughter’s life was so cruelly taken away from her, Mrs Owen said: ‘Whoever said that time heals was mistaken. All you can do is learn to live with it.’

Melanie had just sat down with colleagues for a business conference on the 106th floor of the complex's north tower at the Window on the World restaurant.

Fifteen minutes later a passenger jet hijacked by terrorists crashed into the landmark in the first of a series of attacks.

Melanie, who spent the first 20 years of her life on Hayling, attending Oaklands School in Waterlooville and later Highbury College, is named in a memorial outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, alongside the 67 other British victims.

Other Portsmouth residents who survived the attack told how they were forced to dive to cover as the World Trade Centre came crashing down.

Geraldine Chapman and Jayesh Amin were a few hundred yards from the towers as they collapsed.

Mrs Chapman, who grew up in Portsmouth, said she scrambled for shelter before stumbling to safety through thick clouds of ash and debris left in the aftermath of the towers’ destruction.

Speaking to The News following the attack, she said: ‘Suddenly there was this huge roar which sounded like another plane coming in. People were screaming and running in all directions. We were running for cover as all the rubble was coming down.

‘There was just panic. I didn't see people coming down but there was a lot of dust. I ran into a bank and hid under the cash machines. There was a lot of screaming.

`When the roar stopped I came out and everyone was covered in dust. We were all choking. The dust was so thick, I could hardly see. I just wanted to get out of the area.’

Jayesh Amin, whose family was from Gosport, had been working on the subways in New York and described the scenes of carnage.

He said: `It was terrible. Everyone was watching the fire and saying: "It will never collapse'’.

`But then just minutes later the first one came down and there was just this huge cloud of dust thrown into the air.'

Describing the mayhem he added: `People were just running as fast as they could away from it. Everyone was screaming.’

Hampshire police had been contacted about seven people reported missing in the wake of the atrocity.

It was the job of then-Detective Constable Fiona Holland to jet out to New York and comfort relatives of Hampshire victims of the terrorist outrage - as well as look for answers about the missing.

The Southsea CID officer, who has since retired from the force, sifted through documents and worked with the British consulate during her mission in America.

Speaking from her hotel room in New York just days after the attack, Det Con Holland told a fellow Hampshire officer: `There is a mushroom cloud hanging over the city.

`I have gelled with the other liaison officers out here and we all have a sense of duty and determination to ease the pain of the families involved.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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