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PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to move on to another one of our "9/11 Heroes" now.
It's impossible to catalog all of the ways people from all walks of life tried to make an unbearable situation bearable. As you know, Americans donated money, food, clothes, blood, you name it. Rescue workers gave up their time, their sweat.
And our next hero's contribution came in those few minutes on September 11 itself, and what a contribution it was, offering some kind words, a calm voice, for people trapped in a nightmare.
The story of a 911 operator from Maria Hinojosa.
MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was always something special, something soothing about Yvette Montagne Washington's (sic) voice. She always envisioned she might one day use her voice to make a living.
YVETTE WASHINGTON-MONTAGNE, NYPD COMMUNICATIONS TECH: I was going to be a singer. I was going to be a great wife, a wonderful mother.
HINOJOSA: She did become a wife and mother, but she ended up using her warm voice not to sing, but as a 911 operator.
MONTAGNE: Police operator 1597, what is the emergency?
I read you loud and clear. OK. Any instructions regarding this alarm?
HINOJOSA: September 11 has always been a very special day for these operators. It's the one day the calendar, 9/11, celebrates the work they do.
MONTAGNE: I was scheduled to receive an award, along with others, for attendance and service.
HINOJOSA: But at 8:46 that morning last year, the celebration was suddenly interrupted.
MONTAGNE: We began to take calls, and we were told that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. And so, in my head, I said to myself, oh, they're filming a movie, and somebody failed to communicate with us to tell us what was going on.
HINOJOSA: What was going on was that the calls became more frightening and tension was building.
MONTAGNE: Some of the calls were people who were trying to be calm, and then you had those calls where people were anxious and afraid and frightened.
HINOJOSA: Unlike other high-crisis moments at the 911 headquarters, this one didn't slow down.
MONTAGNE: And now, you're getting calls from people that are telling you, I'm going to jump. I'm not going to stay here, because you're not going to come for me in time. I don't want to die without trying to fight for my life.
You're trying to pray with people, because you don't want them to hear the fear in your voice.
HINOJOSA: Twenty years on the job, answering one emergency after another, but this, there was nothing like this terror.
MONTAGNE: And before the building fell, you could hear screaming, a lot of screaming. You could hear glass breaking. And then, you could hear, like, wind -- wind. And then, you heard, like, calm. And then, I think the reality hit that people weren't going to make it.
HINOJOSA: The anguished people on the other end of the line just needed love, compassion and assurance.
MONTAGNE: They needed that calming voice. They needed someone to just to reassure them that everything was going to be all right, even though maybe deep inside they felt that they weren't.
HINOJOSA: And all Yvette could do for 16 hours nonstop that day was to offer the only thing that she had, her voice.
MONTAGNE: That's OK. That's all right. Have a nice day. Bye- bye.
HINOJOSA: Maria Hinojosa, CNN, New York.
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