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Carson woman helping in New York

Amanda Hammon, Appeal Staff Writer

Edwina Richter says God gave her a servant’s heart.

So after watching planes slam into the World Trade Center towers Sept. 11, her heart, although broken with the rest of the nation’s, wouldn’t let her stay home.

Richter, 34, is in New York City on West Street, blocks away from Ground Zero, the rubble of the World Trade Center.

“My heart sinks every time I look down there,” she said in a telephone interview.

As most people on the West Coast gathered around a television in helpless horror, the Carson City resident scrambled to get out of town.

Her mother called to tell her the news that Tuesday morning. Before she ever turned on the television she, “felt convicted … that I had to help,” she said.

“And then I saw a short news clip, and I knew for sure,” she said. “It was a God thing. I prayed, and God made it happen.”

Richter’s car is still in the shop. That day, she called around town looking for a rental car or a bus that could get her to New York. When that failed, she picked up the newspaper, and in the search for a used car, called on a Volkswagen Jetta. She knows nothing about Volkswagens, but $2,000 later she owned the car that would carry her exactly 3,007 miles to New York.

She had the car purchased, licensed and registered within four hours, and by 5 p.m. Sept. 11 was gone. She arrived at the police barricades keeping people from the Trade Center rubble around 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14.

Richter honed her service skills doing mission work in countries like Mexico. She worked as a volunteer emergency medical technician for six years and went to New York, hoping her medical background could be of help as crews pulled survivors from the wreck of the World Trade Center. They’ve found no survivors since Sept. 12. The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army didn’t need volunteers, but she found a citizen group cobbled of people like her in New York trying to help.

“I came with the thought that even if they had me clean toilets it would be helpful,” Richter said. “I’ve been making sandwiches, handing out supplies. I drop things guys need down there in the pit. It’s sickening for the reason we’re here. It’s heartwarming to see people drop everything and help. It’s incredible to see the massive amount of people down here working. There are wonderful people who are out here.”

Smoke still wafts from the wreckage, but not smoke as those in the West know it. It’s thicker than the smell of a brush fire, and it smells worse every day.

“The smell … we try to pawn it off on something else, like a garbage truck passing,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s everything that’s over there, including people. With the fires going on, things burning, the smell is getting worse. You have to put your mind on something else. You have to put your mind on your work.”

The hardest thing, though, is watching the families and friends of victims come by daily.

“They have certain areas they go to take things,” Richter said. “You’ll see families taking personal belongings in for DNA testing. You know they had loved ones in those buildings, and they will never see those people again.

“One thing that has caught my eyes, too, are the numerous signs they’ve put up – on cars, on walls, on churches, on fences, stating they’re a friend, and they’re a co-worker or a husband who was in Tower 1 or Tower 2 and worked at such-and-such a place. If anyone has information to call. It’s pretty real when you see faces and names.”

She said while television viewers probably have had a better look at the rubble than she has, “the feeling when you’re in there is something that would be hard to explain.

“It’s very eerie driving down in there,” she said. “There’s smoke coming out of the ground, all of these huge spotlights and this big hole where you knew two massive towers used to stand. You know thousands upon thousands of lives were lost there. It’s just very … I don’t know what to say. Very humbling? Very sickening in a sense. And cold. And then you look you see a lot of military, a lot of firemen. These guys are working hard down there. I talked to some that work 14 to 16 hours a day. Some don’t come out for days and days. They never see anything other than that for days on end. I can only imagine what they’re going through both emotionally and physically.”

A graduate of Douglas High School, Richter worked as an office manager for various doctors and dentists in Carson City. She left her job recently to take some time off before heading to another mission working with AIDS patients in Cambodia.

“Thankfully I was available and free of any major obligations,” she said. “If people have a job, have a family they can’t just up and leave. That’s why I felt somewhat more responsible to come.”

Friends in Carson City are helping Richter, and if anyone would like to help financially, donations can be dropped off with Tracey Thompson at Sugar Pine Cove, 1087 S. Carson St. Thompson is making special crafts whose proceeds will benefit Richter. Silver State Volley Ball Club is selling volleyballs to help Richter’s efforts. Call 882-5711 for information.

Richter said she has bruises from carrying heavy boxes of water, clothes, tools, “you name it.” She plans on staying until she no longer feels useful.

“It helps put life in perspective more,” she said. “It really reminds you that you shouldn’t take things for granted. Family, friends, you need to tell them how much you care about them, how much you love them. Don’t just assume they know. You can be here one second and gone the next. That’s the reality of life.”

YOU CAN HELP

For information on how to help Edwina Richter, call Tracey Thompson at 884-4603 or Mikki Reissman at 841-2685.