Eric Adams rarely speaks publicly about his role as an NYPD lieutenant securing the obliterated World Trade Center the night after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“There’s some emotional scars there I don’t think will ever heal – it’s our Pearl Harbor,” the Democratic mayoral nominee’s younger brother, retired cop Bernard Adams, told The Post Wednesday.
Bernard, who’s five years younger than the 61-year-old Brooklyn borough president, said his brother “had a major role” in leading a group of officers safeguarding the site. Adams was a lieutenant at Brooklyn’s 88th police precinct at the time. His brother was a sergeant in Queens North.
“He had to hold it together. He had to lead through this thing that was very, very trying,” Bernard recalled.
In a separate interview earlier Wednesday, Adams opened up in his first interview about his chilling experience at Ground Zero.
“That night when I got to the Trade Center and I saw people covered in soot, the ground was smoldering, the buildings were gone for as far I could see, I cannot even explain how surreal it was. It was just hard to even comprehend,” Adams recalled.
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“I didn’t participate in the rescue operation,” he said.
Instead, he was on guard for the unknown.
“We were unclear if this was the first round of many attacks so we were all on pins and needles and just wanted to be ready if there was another round of attack. It was just uncharted waters. There was a lot of uncertainty,” he said.
The cop brothers were also worried about each other — they’d been unable to check in because cell service was down.
“It was nerve-racking because I had to do my job in trying to help people but at the same time I’m worried about my own family,” said Bernard, who was evacuating people from Queens high rises because there were still planes unaccounted for in the sky.
“I didn’t know what was happening with him for about two hours,” Adams said. “I was finally able to reach him, and it was a real relief.”
Adams was on the Upper West Side early that morning handing out fliers as a volunteer for civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel’s public advocate campaign when he saw people gathered inside a store watching television.
“I walked inside and I saw the first plane inside the tower and I never thought it was an accident. I thought right away this is terrorism,” Adams recalled.
“We’re told in the police department that you don’t have to wait to be mobilized when a major incident happens, you immediately know you have to be mobilized and go to your command or the nearest command. I said, ‘Let me make my way down to the 88th precinct,’” Adams recounted.
He got on the subway but it immediately went out of service so Adams walked back to Brooklyn where he climbed up to the roof of the Clinton Hill station house.
“I said, ‘Where are the towers?’ And one of my officers states, ‘They collapsed.’” Adams recalled.
He knew the scale of the devastation from his rookie days as a transit cop patrolling the “vast” underground concourse at the World Trade Center in the 1980s.
“The magnitude of people I saw every day going in and out of those buildings. It was surreal to see the destruction, but it was real because I saw the movement of the people every day going in and out of the buildings. That was a huge piece of real estate and those buildings were huge. I mean it was like, ‘They collapsed?’” he recalled of his disbelief at the time.
He did a 12-hour tour supervising officers protecting the site and keeping crowds away as his NYPD and FDNY colleagues worked furiously to rescue survivors and search for bodies of the fallen.
“We would rotate safeguarding the area because it was an active crime scene. We had to make sure it didn’t turn into a madhouse,” Adams recalled.
Adams talked about the trauma of what he saw that day and the collective grief suffered by first responders like him.
“That was the largest number of police and firefighters lost in one day in the history of the city. Everyone knew someone who died that day,” Adams said.
For him it was John Perry, an NYPD attorney who’d gone to police headquarters that morning to hand in his resignation papers.
When the first plane hit Perry grabbed an NYPD shirt and rushed to Ground Zero. He perished inside Tower One.
“He was a good friend. Very smart. He was an advocate for police reform. Very well-respected person. One of those larger-than-life personalities,” Adams remembered.
Adams has a full schedule of events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attacks this year but amidst the grind he’ll take time to call his brother Bernard.
“We make sure we communicate with each other on that day just as a reminder that we were fortunate to survive,” he said.
But when they reflect on that fateful day, Adams is more stoic than his younger brother.
“I cry about it. I’m a big cry baby in the family. He doesn’t cry like I cry,” Bernard said.