Survivor recounts tale at Jamaica church vigil

By Alexander Dworkowitz

In an emotional service highlighted by the tale of a woman who survived the World Trade Center attack, political leaders from southeastern Queens and hundreds more gathered at the Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica last Thursday for a vigil honoring those who were lost.

Rev. Floyd Flake began the service shortly after noon, introducing U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D.-St. Albans). “The weight on Congressman Meeks is greatest,” he said. “When you have to vote on matters of peace and war, it’s difficult.”

Meeks told the worshipers “when you don’t have answers, this is the place to be.”

He was preceded by Matilda Samuels, a World Trade Center security worker who had escaped with her life just the day before.

“I knew that it’s an area that’s dangerous,” began Samuels, who had worked late nights and early mornings in the building for four years. “We get threats everyday.”

Samuels explained how she guided a crowd of people through the basement to safety.

“I managed to direct them to go the right way,” she said, by telling them “‘I’m the only way out and you have to listen to me.’”

As she escaped, Samuels came across the burned bodies of a man and a woman. “I saw their eyes move and realized they were alive. I couldn’t help them. What could I do?”

Samuels concluded by telling the audience that most of her co-workers had probably been killed.

“Not too many survived. These are people I worked with for years and years. The only thing I can say is that their families experience peace of mind.”

After Samuels finished her story, Flake asked everyone who had been in the area near the World Trade Center the day before to come to the pulpit. About 30 people came forward, and Flake lead the crowd in prayer.

Nearly all of the politicians who spoke emphasized the need for solidarity and faith in the aftermath of the disaster.

“We have to hang onto faith,” said Councilwoman Juanita Watkins (D-Laurelton), “because faith and constant fear are incompatible.”

Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans) spoke on the effect on the attack on the community of Jamaica.

“If you ride the E train, the F train, the J train, you know how many of our community get off at Chambers Street. This is a community concern and we are particularly affected.”

Chambers Street is a subway stop near the World Trade Center.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), who had been approached by Samuels after the attack, told the crowd that they had to listen to survivors such as Samuels.

“You are going to have a moment as a result of yesterday. They may see you in the park, a restaurant,” said Smith. “Please don’t miss that moment.”

While faith and strength in the face of loss were the themes of the service, the politicians also spoke on more practical matters. Meeks discussed the votes he would later undertake.

“The decisions we will make in Washington will be rational decisions, decisions that will assure you that you don’t have to sit in fear,” said Meeks.

Spigner, the deputy majority leader of the Council, urged the crowd to be accepting of the increased financial strain on New Yorkers.

“This section of town produces a huge portion of the tax base for our city,” said Spigner. “We must come together and face the inevitable sacrifices. “This is a time for putting aside petty differences.”

The service concluded with Flake inviting the children in the audience to come forward to the pulpit and calling for the audience to raise their arms, leading them in song and prayer.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

More from Around New York