When the first plane hit we only noticed the lights flickering and the chirping of the power supplies attached to our computers. A few minutes later the phone calls started coming in from family. Something hit one of the trade center towers. I was on the phone with my wife listening to her telling me to leave the city and come home, when the second plane flew past our building and crashed into the second tower. This time we all heard the plane hit and we felt the blast.
I went out into the street to see what was happening. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Both towers on fire, paper and other debris was raining down from the damaged floors above. My first instinct was to run to the site. I had friends there in those buildings and I wanted to lend a hand. My heart was pumping and I felt numb. The only thought in my head was to help. Get to the towers and help. People I passed were in shock. Some were crying. Sirens were screaming everywhere. A woman fainted her friends caught her. I didn’t understand why, what did she see? When I got a block away from the south tower entrance I saw a police officer. He was directing traffic and people away from the area. I asked him where the people in the building who were evacuated being taken. He didn’t know. I asked him how I can help. He couldn’t say because he didn’t know. I looked up and for the first time I saw people falling from the buildings. It was like time stopped. I had never seen anyone die before now I was watching, helpless, as many people were losing their lives violently at their own hands or in the fire raging 80 stories over my head.
At that instant I was enraged and impotent. I wasn’t ready for this. There was something horrible happening that was out of control and no matter what I did there was nothing I could do to make things better. Then I looked back at the police officer and he said the best thing I could do would be to go home to my family. I walked/ran back to my building. I went back upstairs to the 7th floor. I called my wife to tell her I was safe and that I was going to try to make it to the Staten Island Ferry and leave the city from the south. I started to get off the phone with her when I heard her say, “Something’s happening….”. I felt our building shaking. “I’m coming home. I’ll be OK. I’ll get in touch soon.”, I told her just as the phones went dead and the power went out. I walked out into the hall.
I knew the elevators would be down so I made my way to the stairs. I opened the door to the stairway and it was pitch black. There were no emergency lights. Feeling my way down and trying to count the floors as I went, I started down from the seventh floor. As I got down to about what I had estimated to be the second floor, I met three other people who were making their way down. Thankfully they had flashlights. The doors weren’t marked but we got to the bottom of the stairway and opened the door out to what we hoped would be the lobby. We stepped out into the room and it was still dark.
“Maybe we’re in the basement?”, one person said. I noticed the marble on the walls.
“No.”, I said. “We’re in the lobby.”
“Why is it so dark?, another person asked.
Then I heard someone shouting, “Help us!”. I spun around. Where was that coming from?
“Help us!”, I heard again.
This time someone came around a corner. It was a black woman. Maybe a police officer. I couldn’t tell she was completely covered in dust. She was having difficulty breathing. It was in her eyes.
“Water!”, someone called behind her.There were people streaming in from the street.
They were also covered in dust.
“What happened?”, I asked.
Another police officer passed by and said, “The tower fell.”
Just then a janitor came from behind us in the hall way. The second officer asked him where we could get water. He fumbled for his keys and opened up one of the ground floor offices. There was a small kitchen in there. The few of us who were not choking were helping people into the kitchen, getting their eyes and throats clear, and helping the people who were coming in from the street. A person in a wheelchair, a woman with a baby, a British film crew. When things stabilized I opened an office door that faced West Street. I looked out the window and saw the entire street, as far as I could see covered with grey dust. A few people were stumbling, half/running, down the street. I banged on the window trying to signal them to go to the front of our building. Someone walked in to the office with a handheld camera. He was looking at the video he shot only moments ago as the tower collapsed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. By then people were talking about this as an attack. Quick rumors were circulating about more planes in the air. Someone said the Pentagon had been hit and the White House. As I turned away from the video and walked back to the window a police officer burst into the office and shouted,”Everyone away from the windows! The second one is coming down!”
We all ran out of the office and back into the hall. I felt a shudder, like a small earthquake. When it stopped I ran back to the office and looked out the window. I couldn’t see anything. Just brown/grey dust blocking out the sun. I decided as soon as this dust settled enough that I would try to make it to the ferry. I walked back to the office with the kitchen. I grabbed an empty water bottle, filled it from the tap, and put it into my bag. I found some coffee filters and wet them down. They would do as dust masks if the dust didn’t clear completely.I walked to the lobby entrance. The dust still choked the streets and I could almost make out the trees in Battery Park only a hundred feet away. Someone had a radio and was listening to the confused reporting in those first few hours. The Pentagon had been hit but not the White House. There were still planes unaccounted for but no other buildings have been hit. It was definitely a terrorist attack. Cell phones were useless. No one could make any calls. Someone walked outside to smoke a cigarette. They walked outside into that terrible cloud to smoke.
A few minutes later the dust settled some more. I decided to leave. I walked outside. There were no sirens I could hear. It was strangely quiet. I walked down into Battery Park. A merciful wind was keeping the western side of the park closest to the the water free from smoke. People were congregating into this small oasis of clean air. A police officer announced that they were going to try to evacuate people from this area by boat. The injured would go first. So I decided to wait. As I was waiting my cell phone rang. It was a colleague. She asked if I was OK. I told her I was fine and if she could call my wife to let her know where I was and that I was safe. She said she would and we hung up. I tried to make an outbound call but I couldn’t get a signal. At least my wife would know I was safe. I waited a few more minutes and tried the phone again. This time I got though to my home. I told my wife my situation and bits and pieces of what happened. I told her how I was getting out. I told her I loved her. People from the crowd started asking me to use my phone. I was afraid if I hung up I wouldn’t get another signal so I asked people to give me their names and the phone numbers they wanted to call. I relayed them to my wife and we got messages to about a dozen families, including two NYC Firemen who had just escaped the tower’s collapse.Finally some tug boats pulled up to the seawall. One by one they loaded up people who were waiting in Battery Park and they took us over to Liberty State Park in New Jersey. During the short ride across the bay no one spoke. We all just looked back in horror and grief at the spot where the World Trade Center had been standing and was now burning ash.
Originally published on giolist.com