Coming in From Jersey City on the Path Train Under the WTC, 9-11-2001
I was coming into work at the Bank of New York at 1 Wall St. from Jersey City. My train arrived under the WTC around 8:50am(EST). As any typical day, there were hundreds of us trying to get to the stairs and escalators up to the ground level and onto our jobs. As we were proceeding, 4 security guards came running up behind us yelling what I thought was,“Get out of the way!” when in fact was “Get Out of the Building!” As they were running ahead of us up the escalators, we all began to realize what was happening, everyone began to pick up the pace. At this point, nobody was panicking but we were obviously all quite scared. My first thought was that a fight had broken out and somebody had a weapon, in the mall. Then I began to think maybe there was a bomb somewhere in the building. The first plane had already hit and we on the path train hadn’t heard the explosion. As we got into the WTC mall area I heard crying, screaming, and I realized every second might be our last and had to move quickly. My heart was in my throat and my knees were feeling weak, almost everyone was walking very fast but not running as we were trying not to panic. Finally, I went in the direction toward the A,C,E subway trains and took the escalators up from there to street level. As I looked outside I saw the debris on the street, it was everywhere.
At this point everyone was being directed out by security and after leaving the building I ran across the street toward the Century 21 building. I turned to see and had my first view of the tower on fire. I heard people saying,“They got us this time, they got us”, people crying, trying desperately to get through to loved ones on cell phones to let them know they were OK. I myself tried to call family and friends but the screams and the sirens were too loud, as well as the network being jammed from so many calls. As I was looking I heard a woman scream,“Oh my God!” and saw someone fall from the building. I decided I needed to get farther away from the building and began to move toward Broadway, about a block away. This was quite difficult as there were many people outside and I was nearly overcome with my own emotions.
Finally, I reached Broadway, and began to head toward my building, I suppose thinking there might still be work. At this point I figured the explosion was a bomb, and tried to piece together what had actually happened from others on the street who might have witnessed it. Finally, it was confirmed to me that a plane had flown into the tower, causing the explosion. I think I was like many others in those few moments who felt a sense of relief, thinking it was an accident and not a bomb, that the plane had engine trouble and lost control.
Finally, I got to the Wall St. entrance of Bank of NY across from Trinity church, about 3 blocks from the Trade center, and continued to stare at the sheer devastation. As I watched along with many others, we heard a growing roar and suddenly another jet appeared and slammed into the tower. From our vantage point, it looked like the plane had actually gone through the tower, it had happened so fast. That sent a tremendous shock wave through all of us, screaming with the horror of realization that this was no accident. I cannot begin to describe the chaos that ensued. I staggered into my building to escape the smoke and debris that was falling everywhere.
After a while I began to realize that we were far too close to the NY Stock Exchange and that this may well indeed be the next target. Everyone thought we might still expect more attacks, nobody knew where it was going to stop. I decided to proceed down to Battery park,(which is the at the very lowest point of Manhattan looking out toward the Statue of Liberty) I felt it being an open area might be a safer place than underneath those buildings. Once down there with hundreds of others, we began to sit and speculate on who was responsible for this destruction and try and calm ourselves down.
As the next hour went by I think there were many comments on how amazing the structure of the towers were to have withstood such an impact. None of us believed they would collapse, I think. In a way it seemed like the Titanic, for lack of a better way to put it, unsinkable. When it seemed the worst was over I began to walk towards Broadway and see what was going on in the bank. I couldn’t have gone more than 10 steps when suddenly there was a crashing sound and a horrible rumble, absolutely terrifying. The entire financial district sounded like a stadium full of screams of horror. It’s a sound I’ll never forget as long as I live. Between the crash and rumble and the screams I heard people yelling,“Run!” and someone else saying,“Who cares where, just go!” The crowd was moving toward the water. I jumped over the park benches and started to run in the grass, to get away from the panic. I stopped to look back. I didn’t believe the entire tower had collapsed, I thought maybe the top portion had toppled, but I couldn’t see anything from where I was, it was all obscured by smoke and dust. Then as I looked I saw the cloud rolling towards us over the other towers and I was really, deathly afraid. I began to run and my heart was beating so fast I felt like my knees were going to buckle. What happened next was kind of a blur, I just remember the cloud overtaking us and being pelted with debris and covered with dust as we kept moving. We all began to realize there was really nowhere immediate we could go to get away from the storm of ash we were under, and that’s when I believe many people started panicking. There were kids from the local High School in this crowd along with professionals and tourists and people from all walks of life turning gray under the torrent. The screaming was frenzied and worse than any Blockbuster film Hollywood has ever come up with. We ran toward the Staten Island ferry, and as we got close to the entrance, I watched in my own near panic as the crowd in front of me began to run back towards the rest of us, I really thought I was going to be trampled. You couldn’t see very far in any direction, and the panic and chaos had become so great that we seriously thought there were terrorists with guns waiting for us there at the ferry and were about to start shooting at us.
I ducked behind a vehicle as the crowd ran towards us, looked toward the water, and saw people standing by a fence that protected us from the water. There was an open spot where I could stand, and I just went to it. Once there the other people and I talked about staying calm, about coming to NYC to be “Where it’s at” and now all this. I myself had just moved to the metro area from Boston in January of this year! I was looking out toward the water and saw kids on the other side of the fence waiting to jump, just holding on and looking for any reason to dive into the water. I looked up into the debris and thought,“My God, what kind of a world are we going to be living in now?” That was the closest I came to despair that day and the moment I decided I was not going to die, I would live through this. No long afterwards I realized the panic had subsided and guards were telling us to head toward the Brooklyn bridge, to evacuate immediately. I walked about 50 feet and walked right into about 7 or 8 coworkers from the bank, which was pretty amazing amidst all the chaos. I remember blood on the sidewalk and shoes, I think some people must have gotten trampled though I didn’t see anyone get hurt, it was too crazy out there for somebody not to have gotten injured in the crush of people. Once we determined none of us were injured, we had to walk down towards the bridge, and as this was happening, the 2nd tower fell, which pelted us with more debris and caused the sky to seem a dark gray. It reminded me of the Mt. St. Helens footage after the great eruption.
Once we were finally to the bridge, and this was about, I believe, 11am(est) we were fearful that the Brooklyn bridge would be the next target, that all the bridges were targets. Nonetheless, we talked ourselves out of the fear and crossed. I should also mention that the bridge itself was out of range of the falling debris and, covered in ash under the heat of the day, it was quite exhausting for us to go across after all we had gone through. Everyone was very dehydrated and hungry once we finally got to Brooklyn. From there we found safe places to go to, and we started to process what we had just experienced, but I don’t think any of us will ever fully realize the impact it will have on us emotionally, etc. At this point the best I can hope for is to be able to accept all the changes this will bring and go forward. I take some comfort in knowing that, although thousands of people lost their lives going to work, many thousands more were able to escape unharmed from the financial district and survive this horrible self righteous act of cowardice. I hope sharing this story will bring some peace and healing and bring some understanding of the magnitude of this event.
David Hathaway, Jersey City