Cromer mayor still haunted by memories of 9/11

Today, Greg Hayman is mayor of Cromer and looking to move his life in a new direction by studying art. A decade ago, he was caught in the toxic dust of Manhattan's streets as the Twin Towers collapsed a few blocks from where he stood. He told his story to Mark Nicholls.

Amid the choking clouds of toxic dust sweeping through the streets of Manhattan as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center crumpled, the haunting image that reappears for Greg Hayman is of the dumbstruck, dust-caked figures emerging from debris.

Too shocked to speak, the ghostly figures reached out for help.

Only moments earlier, those above them had leapt to their deaths as the ferocious fire and choking smoke engulfed the upper storeys of the World Trade Center towers.

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Witnessing thousands of people die before his eyes as the towers collapsed is also a thought that Mr Hayman, now 53 and the mayor of Cromer, still struggles with as he tries to push it to the back of his mind.

Sometimes it is not that easy, particularly as those images and memories are revived on the 10th anniversary of the atrocities.

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A decade ago, Greg was in New York as head of communications for the British Library with two colleagues preparing for the opening of an exhibition marking the centenary of the death of Oscar Wilde.

He was awoken on the morning of September 11 in his room at the New Yorker hotel by a colleague who had been told of news reports of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers.

Mr Hayman said: 'I turned on the news and then looked out of my window. I could see smoke rising from around one of the towers. My immediate thought was that there had been a terrible accident.

'It was while I was watching the news in the room that I saw the second plane fly into the other tower on TV and that's when I knew something was terribly amiss and that this was no accident, that it was a terrorist attack.'

Worried that they were in a high rise hotel and at risk, they decided to go down to street level with a plan to make their way towards the lower rise buildings in Greenwich Village.

They were left aghast by the scenes that greeted them.

'The World Trade Center was only four blocks away and we could see the shapes of people throwing themselves out, we had a clear view. The traffic all around us suddenly screeched to a halt as people stood in total disbelief as the first tower came down. It was a terrible experience.

'Seeing people effectively dying in front of us was overwhelming as there were obviously thousands of people still in there…and then the second tower fell.

'Soon, the first walking wounded started staggering out of the dust like grey spectres. They were totally covered from head to foot in the foul dust from the collapsing buildings, covered everywhere except from where they were bleeding.'

For several days afterwards, Mr Hayman and his colleagues were stranded at their hotel but food was running out and although no new guests were arriving as flights were grounded, everybody around him were all trying to work out how to get away from New York. It was a further 10 days before he was able to leave the city.

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