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Stories of September 11

Contributed by: Donald Kardos
Contributor's location on 9/11: New York City, NY - Liberty & Nassau St., then Water St.
Contributed on: September 12, 2004

I felt a vibration as I approached the corner of Liberty & Nassau St., two blocks from the World Trade Center. The sunlight across the street which was being reflected off another building started moving, and I thought this could be something big. People in front of me had stopped and were looking in the direction behind me, so I turned and looked. The sky was filling up with papers. I couldn?t see the World Trade Center because of the other buildings, so my best guess was that something had exploded high up in one of the skyscrapers.

I had just gotten off the PATH train from New Jersey underneath the WTC 5-10 minutes earlier, as I had done almost every day for the previous 7 years. I half ran, half walked across Chase Manhattan Plaza, figuring if I got to work at 55 Water St, I?d be far enough away to be safe from whatever was going on.

When I reached Wall St, paper and gritty bits were starting to reach the ground. I picked up a piece of paper with financial numbers on it that was partially burned. It wasn?t mine so I didn?t want to keep it or throw it in the garbage, and I put it back on the ground.

Water St. had normal activity on it and I rushed to the 16th floor to tell my coworkers something had happened. Those who had gotten to work by now were already looking out our window toward the WTC, and we could see several floors very high in the North Tower were blackened and there were flames in at least 1 small part of the damaged area. Someone told me an airplane had crashed into the tower. I was thinking, ?People are dead?.

Because of the other buildings, we didn?t see the 2nd plane until just before it crashed into the South Tower. I only vaguely remember a fireball and smoke pouring out of the building. I couldn?t tell how big the airplane was. I was thinking, ?A plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Someone is crashing airplanes into us.?

Now I was nervous because anything seemed possible and no one could be sure what would happen next. I think I was outwardly pretty calm, but for many hours I was continually, anxiously wondering ?Where am I going to be safe??

55 Water is a 15 minute walk from the WTC, so I assumed that was a distance of about 3/4 of a mile. The towers were probably no more than 1/4 of a mile tall, so I thought even if they fall over, they probably wouldn?t reach us. Besides, I was thinking at worst, the tops of the buildings will break off at the impact points and our building would be okay.

But the possibility of more airplanes existed. Our building was 1 of many on the river, so there was nothing between us and the open air on our east side. There were opposite opinions among us on where we should go. Since I had no idea, I went with the consensus, which was to stay where we were for now. I called my parents and left a message saying ?Turn on the television, there?s a plane crash, two plane crashes, at the World Trade Center. I?m at work now, I?m waiting for directions on what to do next. I?ll talk to you later.? In the past I had told some of my relatives I walk through the WTC on the way to work, and later I learned some of them had gotten mixed up and thought I worked in the towers. My message gave them some relief since they knew I was not in those buildings at the time of the plane crashes.

I think someone learned on the Internet that the Pentagon had been hit. I wondered why there was no announcement on the building?s public address system telling us what to do. This was an extremely rare event, but I thought surely there must be preparations for what to do in time of war. The sentiment on the floor had shifted so that most of us decided we should leave the building, and we went down on the elevator. Nothing bad happened there, but now I know to always take the stairs if there?s an emergency.

Water St was now full of traffic, none of it moving. The sidewalks and plazas were full with people standing around talking. I guess none of them wanted to be up in a building. We heard a rumor that a bomb had gone off on Wall St. Some people were saying this was like a movie, but I didn?t think that way at all ? people were dying. There were men on megaphones telling employees of another company in my building to report back to work. I was glad I wasn?t being asked to go back - I felt safe here: We were under an overhang, so if a plane hit my building and stuff fell down we?d be somewhat protected.

And I didn?t like the idea of trying to walk anywhere. Our building was very close to the southernmost tip of Manhattan. The only direction to go was north, which meant walking closer to the WTC before we started to get farther from it. Anyway, I couldn?t tell if we?d be any safer a few blocks away than we were right there.

We couldn?t see the towers because of the building across the street. But as I look back, I think the people down at the intersection to our south could see them. They started running around and yelling. Some people around us were saying another plane had hit, others said one of the towers had fallen. I looked at the intersection to our north and said, ?Look at all the smoke coming from over there!? Now everyone was running around. One of the men with a megaphone said one of the towers had fallen. Since everyone was running around in the direction away from the WTC, I figured I might as well join them, and I went around to the side of 55 Water St facing the East River.

I had no clue huge, gritty dust clouds were about to cover us and the rest of Lower Manhattan. It was still a bright, sunny day here. I don?t like being in the sun so I left my coworkers and went in a vestibule in the back of 55 Water St. As I went in I heard a plane overhead and I wondered what that was doing here. I was hoping it was there to help us. There were other people in the vestibule, but it wasn?t packed. When I walked in it had been a clear day where you could see across the river to Brooklyn. Soon, however, you couldn?t see past the other side of the street. It was as if a storm had come in, and instead of rain, gritty dust was filling the sky and falling to the ground. I saw hundreds of people walk by with clothes and rags over their faces to keep from breathing in the grimy air.

Over the next few hours in the vestibule, a few people left and a few people entered, but it never got packed. At most there were probably 15 people in there. The dust in the sky started to clear, and then it got worse again. I figured the other tower had fallen. Through a window in a locked door, we could see people working calmly. A few people in the vestibule knocked on the door to use a bathroom and get some water. Some used the pay phone to call people and tell them they were okay. I think we heard an announcement on a loudspeaker saying the building was stable and operational for its employees. Most people were talking about when it would be okay to leave the building. I wasn?t saying anything because I wanted to stay calm, but I still wasn?t sure if the danger was over. Eventually the sky began clearing, and a man walked by handing out dust masks to people in the street. A bunch of us walked out and took a mask, and then went right back inside. Slowly, one by one, people felt safe enough to leave the vestibule and walk away.

I was one of the last ones to leave. I walked north along South St. To my left I couldn?t see down the streets because they were still filled with dark clouds. I was afraid of what I might see anyway so I kept walking north. I actually wondered if my company would mind that I wasn?t working and I figured I could take a personal day. As I got closer to the Brooklyn Bridge I headed west and the streets got more crowded with other people walking away from the financial district. A few people were covered in dust but most were clean. They must have been squirreled away in buildings, like me, until they decided to evacuate.

I stopped at a Jewish community center and got some water and used the bathroom. After a few minutes of sitting I got restless and wanted to keep moving. I walked north, occasionally looking back the see smoke pouring up out of the WTC site and heading east over Brooklyn. Facing north, I could see the Empire State Building, and I was hugely relieved and comforted to see it was still standing unscathed.

My brother lived on the Lower East Side and I figured I could stop there for a while and rest. We?re not close but once I got in his place I sat on his bed and was very upset. Some of his friends were there but I couldn?t help myself. I think I kept saying ?I?m fine; I?ve just been so scared.? The gruesome brutality of what had happened and my uneasiness about what to do had caught up to me, and now that I was out of Lower Manhattan I didn?t have to be so tranquil.

We went to a local deli and bought some food. My brother emailed my mother and said I was fine. I don?t think the phones were working. My brother?s friends left, and he saw on the Internet that ferries were leaving from the west side. I left and took a subway to midtown, and walked several long blocks to the Hudson River. I think there had been huge lines there early in the day, because I had to walk a path around many blocks to get to what was now, in the early evening, a reasonably short line with only about a half hour wait.

On the ferry I felt like an exhausted war refugee. I could see the smoke rising out of the WTC site, and I still hoped many of the lower floors had remained intact and that most people in the buildings had been saved. I didn?t really understand that the Towers had been obliterated until I saw on television later a piece of the outer wall of the lobby standing on its own, crooked and surrounded by the smoldering remains of the buildings.

In Hoboken, we were given bottles of water and those of us who had been in Lower Manhattan were doused with water, even though I didn?t have any dust on me. I haggardly walked home and called whoever I could get through to. I was extremely tired, because although I had kept it to myself, I had been frantically wondering all day, ?Where should I go? Where will I be safe?? But I couldn?t sleep because I was so wired up, and I couldn?t come down from it. The broadcast antennas on the WTC had come down so I could only get 1 UHF channel, and I watched the news on there until I fell asleep around 4 or 5 the next morning.

When I was walking out of Lower Manhattan, I wondered what effect this would have on me. Immediately I was anguished and sickened over the attack, and I felt dread and anxiety that we?d be attacked again. I was able to work and go about my business, so I didn?t look for help, but I felt intensely awful. My new commute was the worst part. My train station was gone and the ferries now taking me to work past what was left of the WTC site were a daily reminder. I would tell myself I?m going to have to be a little bit cold about the attacks in order to function, but that was virtually impossible. My initial reactions haven?t changed, but slowly, extremely slowly, they?ve become less ubiquitous in my mind. It's 3 years later, and I feel better now than I did a year ago, and I felt better then than a year before that.

I?m one of the more fortunate people who were in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The people who escaped from the towers, know people who were murdered, and saw the deceased have had a much rougher time.

Cite as: Donald Kardos, Story #10979, The September 11 Digital Archive, 12 September 2004, <>.
Archival Information: 2283 words, 11576 characters
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