Contributor's location on 9/11:
New York City
August 19, 2002
I was running a little late to work. I was on the subway heading to my Wall Street stop. The train was running unusually slow, but I figured it was usual congestion. The first apparent sign that something was wrong was when the conductor said, "Due to an incident at Fulton Street, the train will skip Fulton Street and stop at Wall Street." I didn't think much of it at the time except that it would shave a few minutes getting to work. When the train pulled into the Wall Street Station, the smell of smoke was quite thick. I assumed there was a track fire on Fulton Street, which caused the delay, and the station skip. When I got to the surface (approx. 3 blocks from the World Trade Center), I saw people running toward the Trade Center, I saw a motorcycle cop drive by, and I saw little pieces of paper and debris falling from the sky. Since I was in the Canyon of Heroes - the area in Manhattan where ticker tape parades are thrown - I assumed that a world leader was opening the Stock Exchange. I figured people were running toward Wall Street (direction of the Trade Center from where I was standing) in order to get a better view. Then I looked up and my world changed. I saw a thick column of olive green, grey smoke moving West to East, with a slight southerly angle across the sky. This sounds so stupid, but I still didn't think anything major had happened. From my angle, I couldn't see the Trade Center. Obviously there was a fire, but I thought it was a fire in one of the high rises in New Jersey. I walked over to get a better look, and that's when I saw Tower Two was burning. I stood there looking at it for a few minutes, asked what had happened and got answers such as, "a bomb," or, "a plane." I never thought it was a big plane. Couldn't be. I stood for a few minutes, and then headed to work. I tried getting reception on my cell phone, but couldn't. I saw someone walking quickly up Exchange Place crying. I still was in the dark as to what happened and I figured I'd learn more once I got to the office. At this point it was about ten minutes past nine and my primary thought was that I was late. We had a view of the Towers (specifically Tower Two) from my office. I kept looking at it from the window. At points it actually looked like the fire was going out. It was almost impossible to get a phone call out, but the few people who I did speak to, I commented that I didn't know how the Tower was standing. It looked to me like a shark's mouth... like a Pac-Man. Mind you - I didn't really think it was going to fall - it just looked like it would. I said, "shark's mouth," because before September 11th, the big story at the time was about shark attacks off the coast. Those were much different times. The radio was on and I was talking to my boss, and that's when I first knew that BOTH Towers were hit. Due to the angle, you just couldn't see the First Tower at all. That's when I realized just how serious it was. At some point, the building's doorman came into our office to do a headcount (first time that had ever been done). As he was in the office I went over to the window and took a look at the Tower. As I was looking at it, it fell. This was before it was on TV, or radio. I just stood there and said, "Oh my God, Oh My God..." over and over again. When my boss asked what happened I said, "The Tower just fell. They got the Tower." When people are in stressful situations they react differently. I apparently cup my hand over my mouth. It's too cliche to say that the event was surreal. It doesn't actually describe anything. It was like watching God fall. It's something you just didn't think was possible. Within minutes, the dust cloud enveloped our building. Looking out the window, all I could see was debris within the cloud. There was nothing else. After some time, the dust cloud cleared. The office smelled from fire and jet fuel. My throat was scratchy. My eyes were burning. My mouth was dry. Just when it started getting lighter outside, the second Tower collapsed. This one seemed louder. Maybe because I couldn't see it. The first one sounded like thunder. This one seemed more like an explosion. It was scarier. I left the office right after that. I left the office knowing this: The Towers were hit, the Pentagon was hit, and the State Department was hit. Factual or not, that's what I knew. I took the staircase downstairs, and every sound in the staircase sounded like the building was collapsing. I suppose this is what military people call Post Traumatic Stress. I had the same fright over the next few weeks whenever I heard a sound of the same frequency I suppose of the Trade Centers collapsing - an elevator door opening, the bus scraping against tree branches, a truck passing by. When I got downstairs, it was pitch black outside. I stayed in the lobby. There was panic. One girl was hysterical. She was being comforted by people telling her she wasn't going to die. I grabbed some construction masks that were out. The building was undergoing some renovation at the time. The smell in the lobby grew stronger. It was the same mix of fire and jet fuel. I put the mask on. The air was dusty, even inside, four blocks away. I heard that the White House was hit too. I tried to figure out how to get home. I live uptown. After about an hour, the smoke had cleared enough to leave. My first impression was that this looked like a scene from the movie, "A Day After." There was about 2 or 3 inches of white dust on the ground. Everything was quiet like after a snowfall. A police car drove by. It struck me that in this time of panic and disaster, there was no direction and no instruction. They didn't know where to go, or to tell us to go. They drove up Broad Street toward Wall Street slowly, kicking up powdery white dust. I needed to walk North to get home, but a look to my left saw dark clouds of smoke, which looked dangerous enough to avoid. It looked black like thunderstorm clouds. Also, in my mind, walking North meant walking under the Brooklyn Bridge, which I figured could be a target as well. So, I walked toward Battery Park in hopes of catching a boat to New Jersey. I couldn't believe the ground. It was covered in white dust. When the wind kicked up, it was like we were in the Plains. The dust picked up and covered my glasses and my hair. There was a police officer with a ripped tee shirt, covered thickly in dust sitting on the ground. I got to the battery and asked if there were any boats going North. They yelled at me to get on this boat. They said, "There's a massive gas leak and everything is going to blow." I didn't hesitate. I had seen enough explosions for one day. I climbed over the sea wall (the boats were not against docks), and got on the boat. Waiting for that boat to pull away before a gas leak blew up all of downtown, or another plane headed toward downtown was the longest few minutes of my life. It wasn't until we were clear of the island, and we were in the middle of the Hudson that I realized it was a sunny day.
Story #1241, The September 11 Digital Archive
, 19 August 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/stories/details/1241>.
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