paul eliacin haitian first responder
Paul Eliacin in front of the wreckage at Ground Zero, in September 2001. Courtesy: Paul Eliacin/Pololo Entertainment

The wreckage of the Twin Towers was still smoldering three days after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when Paul Eliacin arrived at Ground Zero on a flatbed pickup truck. A teamster who works on television show sets, Eliacin said he volunteered through his union to provide lighting and clear rubble with firefighters and other first responders. 

Twenty years later Eliacin, 66, said his body and mind still feel the impact of the disaster. He takes medication for post-traumatic stress disorder and was diagnosed with chronic upper respiratory inflammation that causes frequent coughing. The latter symptom, he said, has luckily improved in recent years. 

Yet, it’s the emotional impact that he will feel on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Speaking about the event from his Harlem apartment, Eliacin struggled to hold back tears. 

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Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at or on Twitter @sambojarski.