LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Rita Hovey was blocks away from the World Trade Center when the towers were hit on Sept. 11th. To this day, she can’t bear to visit the memorial.
“I can’t watch any of the memorials on television. It just upsets me,” said Rita Hovey, a Queens native who retired in Lakeland, through tears.
On 9/11, her office overlooked the Twin Towers.
“Smoke, a lot of smoke,” she remembered seeing. “I was mostly taken with all of the papers fluttering.”
She and her coworkers evacuated the building and found momentary refuge in a nearby restaurant.
A waiter handed out pieces of ripped tablecloth amid the chaos. She’s held on to the cloth for 18 years.
“To cover my face, you just do it so you wouldn’t be inhaling all the ashes. I’m getting goosebumps telling the story, I want you to know that,” she said.
Then, she heard a tower come tumbling down.
“I thought it was another plane coming and I thought, I don’t know how to swim but I’m gonna jump in the river,” she said.
She didn’t have to. Instead, she crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot.
“I was afraid to do it because I thought maybe the bridge was rigged and they’d blow it up,” she feared.
Rita eventually made it home safely and did not know anybody who died that day but that hasn’t lessened the pain.
“When I think about all the people that died that day, it’s just horrible,” she said.
She also remembers the goodness showed by everyday New Yorkers in the aftermath of tragedy.
“We all came together. It was just so much compassion and sympathy. I don’t know. It was just great. Everyone worked together,” she said.