WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Metro-North Harlem Line commuter Debra Oria endured six hours of roundtrip train and subway travel on Wednesday, but she had nothing but praise for Metro-North in the wake of the deadly building collapse in East Harlem.
When Oria, of Danbury, Conn., left for a work-related meeting in midtown Manhattan, she didn't know about the building collapse.
"The train left at 10 a.m. from Southeast," she said of the Harlem Line trip that began shortly after the deadly explosion occurred. "About five or six stops in, I began to hear that we would not make it to Grand Central."
The conductors "came up and down the rows and gave us information," Oria said as news spread of the fire and travel problems in East Harlem. "There was all kinds of confusion on where we would get off. The passengers were asking about subways. We were all trying to figure it out."
The passengers were all dropped off at the Wakefield station in the Bronx.
"We hoofed it through the Bronx, throngs of people walking very fast, about six or seven blocks to the subway to catch the No. 2," she said. "The MTA people were very helpful. There were police officers directing us on where to go."
When they got to the subway, passengers were allowed on for free with their Metro-North tickets.
"It took a long time to get into Manhattan, with a lot of stops," Oria said. "But I made it to my meeting. I was all disheveled, but I made it." Her trip, which should have taken one-and-a-half hours, took three hours.
When her meeting was over, she had to reverse the process.
"I went back to Grand Central and saw that travel was still a problem," Oria said. "MTA people were handing out pieces of paper giving people a set of directions on how to get around the fire area, based on which train line you needed."
The directions routed her back to the Bronx, taking a No. 2 subway (again, for free with a Metro-North ticket) to 233rd Street and then walking to the Metro-North stop at Woodlawn. Hundreds of people were waiting there to take trains on the New Haven Line and the Harlem Line.
"Metro-North did a great job, they had good crowd control," she said. "They handled it so well. When I saw that throng of people, I thought, 'Oh no,' but it was great."
A line of eight Metro-North employees was handing out information, telling commuters what was going on, she said.
Oria was lucky -- a Harlem Line was due soon and she was directed straight to the platform.
"I was afraid I would not make it on the train, but when it arrived it was empty," she said. "There were a few people who were cranky, but most people knew what was going on and were good natured. We bonded walking together, waiting in line, catching the subways and the trains.
"I spoke to a man who works at Columbia University who said he could smell the smoke from the fire," Oria said. "When you think about it, we were only inconvenienced. But people died in that explosion. It was a real tragedy."