9/11 20 Years Later: After the attacks, why Charlotte was considered a possible target

CHARLOTTE — It was the day the city of Charlotte fell silent -- when uptown became a ghost town, and we all held our breath, wondering what was next.

Joanna Sikiotis was working at Green’s Lunch in the heart of uptown on the morning of September 11, 2001, and watched as the buildings and the streets around them emptied out.

“It was chaos,” she told Channel 9. “I was getting ready. I had the hot dog cart out where Wells Fargo is now, got that ready, didn’t think of anything, got the hot dog cart out there and saw people crying, upset.”

It all seemed surreal to Sikiotis -- until agents from the federal courthouse across the street walked in and told her to she needed to leave.

“By the time I closed and left the stuff, it was not fast enough,” she said. “I picked up my son from school and I will never forget that day. Never.”

In 2001, current Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles was an assistant city manager, and was in the Government Center helping coordinate the city’s response to an attack no one saw coming.

“No one knew the magnitude. No one knew what was going to actually take place,” she said. “We moved from this moment of history that we didn’t understand, or didn’t know about, to what is this going to mean for our city? That day was one of the longest that I can remember.”

>> Every day this week, Channel 9 will air a special September 11th story at 5 p.m. and another at 11 p.m. You can also watch them all afterward on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.

Former FBI agent Chris Swecker happened to be at FBI Headquarters in Washington that morning for a meeting with the agency’s new director, Robert Muller.

“I was the special agent in charge of the North Carolina FBI office, which covered the whole state,” he said. “The first plane hit, and the second plane hit and we ramped that command center up in about 30 minutes from about 10 people to about 400.”

Five days later, Swecker was back in Charlotte, worrying that the Queen City could be the next target.

“It was a primary concern here in Charlotte,” he told Channel 9. “We are the second largest banking center in the country.”

The banks that had put Charlotte on the map had also, potentially, put the city in the crosshairs.

“Bank of America, it’s tower, all of those things that we had seen as signs of our progress and our entry into this country’s financial world, they were considered targets,” Lyles said. “They were considered places that were vulnerable.”

“Certainly we had other things we were concerned about but the banks, the financial institutions here, were our number one concern,” Swecker said.

Swecker’s FBI office would stay on high alert for almost two years, but the city would come back to life much sooner. The echoes of that day faded away and the streets would slowly regain their voice.

Sikiotis was back in the kitchen at Green’s the next day. And 20 years later, she’s still there, serving up a hot lunch -- with a healthy side of optimism.

“Did you worry or wonder if the business would ever come back?” reporter Mark Becker asked her.

“Yeah, plenty of times,” she said. “But it’s here and we’re still going strong. Thank the Lord, we’re still going strong.”

(WATCH BELOW: 9/11: What you might not know about the terror attacks)