Kyle Beauvais was one of 50 Mohawk ironworkers who participated in the rescue, recovery and cleanup effort at Ground Zero.
Shortly after the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8: 46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, ironworker Kyle Beauvais of Kahnawake took a break on a construction site in Brooklyn.
“I was sitting on a beam watching the smoke from the plane hitting the tower when I saw the second plane hit (the south tower) with my own eyes,” he says.
Four hours later, Beauvais was on one of the first crews of ironworkers rushed in to help. Although the midday skies were sunny and clear that September day, it was a different story at Ground Zero.
“Everything was dust; I couldn’t see where I was,” Beauvais recalls. “It was like nighttime. It was so friggin’ gloomy.”
A third-generation Kahnawake ironworker, Beauvais was one of 50 Mohawk ironworkers, including 30 from the South Shore community, who participated in the rescue, recovery and cleanup effort at Ground Zero.
Overall, several hundred workers were involved in the delicate operation. But some of the most difficult work was done by such ironworkers as Beauvais, who would climb atop the mangled steel girders and cut them so that cranes could carry them away and workers could safely search below.
It was a new and unprecedented chapter in the history of Mohawk ironworkers, who through the 20th century have helped build some of New York City’s iconic symbols, including the World Trade Center’s 110-storey twin towers.
“What we are good at is working with steel and working with cranes,” says Beauvais, who can count 20 buildings on the New York City skyline where he has worked. “But I never did this type of work before. We build things, we don’t take them apart. This was wreckage.”
On that first day, Beauvais says, he and other workers could hear survivors in safe crevices under the rubble using cellphones to call 911. Three were rescued but he says at least 10 others ultimately died before the rubble on top of them could be removed.
“It’s a really terrible memory for me,” he says. “I saw a lot of things – I remember seeing this one fire truck that had been squashed from falling rubble and was just two feet high. Under it, we found the bodies of seven firefighters who had crawled in for protection when one of the towers collapsed.”
Working alongside fellow Kahnawake ironworkers, including his older brother Chris (Sal) Beauvais, he says, made it easier to do the physically dangerous and emotionally draining work.
One day, Kyle Beauvais was cutting a thick Verizon telecommunication cable when he collapsed and was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital. He had inhaled toxic fumes from the cable’s coating and it had burned his lungs – even though he was wearing a protective mask.
While lying in bed in hospital, he looked up and saw actress Susan Sarandon. He had seen her earlier in the day, one of several celebrities who had volunteered to serve meals to workers at Ground Zero – including, that morning, breakfast to Beauvais. Now here she was again at the hospital.
When he woke up in his room, she was there making a fuss about him. “She told everyone ‘He’s one of mine. I just served him breakfast.’ “
Beauvais worked 20-hour days throughout the first week, sleeping four hours on site to do as much as was humanly possible. When the rescue efforts yielded to recovery and cleanup, he stayed on four months further.
Photos included by Black Powder, RPM Staff