'It sounded like war:' Lakeland resident still haunted by 9/11

As the world commemorates September 11, a Lakeland woman would like to forget, but can't.

She was an eyewitness to a very dark chapter in our nation's history.

"I cannot go down to the memorial. I can't watch any of the memorials on TV," Rita Hovey told FOX 13. "It just upsets me."

Hovey was working in a building a few blocks away from the World Trade Center when it was attacked.

When everyone was evacuated from her building, she saw chaos in the streets, including armed troops.

"That really startled me. That really shook me up," Hovey said. "It sounded like war."

Hovey made her way with a co-worker to a neighborhood restaurant, where she saw a waiter tearing up a tablecloth and giving pieces to passersby.

"To cover your face," she explained. "So that you wouldn't be inhaling the ashes."

She still has that remnant of cloth; a bittersweet reminder of what she experienced first-hand.

"When I think of all the people who died that day," she recalled, "just horrible."

Eventually, she made her way to a ferry that was headed for Brooklyn and got on.

"The whole thing was dead quiet," she said. "Except one man. He kept repeating, 'My son, my son was in that building, and I can't reach him.'"

She never found out what happened to the man or his son. However, she does have one memory of 9/11 that she holds dear.

"When I went home, I put my flag out on the porch. My whole street had their flags out," she recounts fondly. "We all came together and there was so much compassion and sympathy... Everyone just worked together."