Thanks for your note. I’m fine, though I saw quite a bit of action and was trapped twice. My building is a block southeast of the WTC. (I was on the 48th floor of 2 WTC from 81 to 86.) I saw the smoke from 1 WTC at quarter to 9 going to my train on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. A lot of people were standing on the corner looking up.
We have, that is, had, a good view of the twin towers from the fourth floor of our house. I proceeded to my office which is a commute of about 9 minutes. Emerging from my train to the corner of Broadway and Wall Street I found hundreds or thousands of people standing in the street looking up. This was about 9.
As we were looking at the smoke we saw the second plane go into 2 WTC from the left. People panicked and there was pandemonium; the crowd fled, people were trampled, and moments later Broadway was littered with shoes. It resembled one of those 1950s Godzilla movies. I went the opposite direction, toward the WTC, as that’s my nature.
Debris floated down upon me but I didn’t think anything further was going to happen. (This morning we have picked up charred papers from the WTC in our front yard.) I went north to see whether the second plane had come out the other side (it didn’t). It was only then that a large phalanx of emergency vehicles began to converge on downtown. Then I went back down to my building but found it formally closed; people were being evacuated with no one allowed in. (I was wanting a phone, because none of our cells were working on the street; I guess the satellites quickly became overloaded.)
As I was standing at the main entrance, in full top to bottom view of both towers, trying to figure out my next move, 2 WTC started to explode in rapid increments from the top down. It closely resembled the planned destruction of large structures such as the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. People were frantically fleeing like at a soccer riot in Latin America. I didn’t move because I didn’t think the building was going to reach me on a large scale; we were less than ‘110 floors’ horizontally from it, but as you’ve seen from TV it fell straight down; it didn’t ‘topple.’
Moments later I realized a huge wave of dense billowing black smoke and soot several hundred feet high was roaring towards us fast. Others and I piled in to two revolving doors busting them. Our huge lobby was immediately engulfed in dark white dust making it impossible to see. People were choking, screaming, crying and falling down. I was in a group that rushed to the lower level where there are subway entrances and pedestrian tunnels that lead a block east; they were all blocked, I guess in connection with the building shutdown. Then we stumbled back upstairs and up a stairwell.
The folks like me who had been outside were particularly covered with thick dust of indeterminate composition. People were coughing, spitting, gasping, having asthma attacks, crying and screaming, and wondering if our building would not become our tomb. I decided to ascend and a couple of floors up I found a door that opened and breathable air. I yelled down and summoned the rest of the people upstairs. We found ourselves in the empty offices of an investment bank or something like that, which had bathrooms, a kitchenette and working phones.
People tried to pull themselves together and a couple needed to get some CPR. We couldn’t see out the windows toward the WTC at all; everything was dark gray. People continued to be very excited because we weren’t sure whether downtown was in flames, and we were stuck between two other possible targets (?), the Stock Exchange on the next block south and City Hall a couple of blocks north.
After about 20 minutes the dust seemed to be settling and loudspeakers announced that everybody still inside the building, which is 44-stories and a full square block, was to exit on the east side. We made our way downstairs and again my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to go north rather than east toward the South Street Seaport and the East River.
Outside there was about four inches of powder and debris on everything and a lot of windows had been blown out. About two blocks from my building, on Nassau Street half way between John and Fulton Streets, just past the Federal Reserve Bank, there was a deafening sort of prolonged sonic boom; it sounded like a large plane crashing at roof level with the roar going from west to east. I was sure it was another plane coming down. (The Federal Reserve wouldn’t be a bad target either.)
I looked back and there was only one other person on the street, young women about 50 feet behind me, and we both ducked in to nearby doorways. Just a couple of seconds later I guess we both realized the ‘plane’ that seemed to have roared overhead hadn’t crashed and we poked our heads out. At that point I saw a tidal wave of black smoke, hundreds of feet high, go east on John across Nassau. I spun around and the same thing was happening ahead of me on Fulton Street, with smoke now also coming directly overhead and filling the block. I realized I was in serious trouble.
All the stores along the block, which is door to door retail, were steel-gated; I figured I had to get to Fulton and go east whether I could see or breathe or not. By the time I got to the corner I was completely engulfed in deep black; not like night, but absolutely impenetrable black. I had to run my right shoulder along the wall because otherwise I couldn’t find the corner.
Turning, I decided I had to feel along the storefronts going east to get to the next cross street, which was William. I bumped my forehead a couple of times, into what I don’t know, lurching forward, but I just felt this is the only way. I heard guys yelling in front of me and fell over a guy. It was completely blind. I heard one guy say to the other something like, ‘Over there! Get to the door!’
Somehow within moments four of us fell into the door of some kind of sandwich shop on Fulton about halfway between Nassau and William. The door was quickly shut as smoke and soot rushed in. We were coughing, choking, gasping, spitting, and sneezing. There were two young Asian guys, workers there, who quickly gave us water and towels. And there were three or four weeping Latinas who apparently had been in there for nearly an hour already. It turned out the three other men were a building maintenance guy and two NY Fire Dept. emergency medical technicians. The one who found the door was a lieutenant and I told him, ‘You saved all of our lives,’ and he did not disagree.
Outside it was as though the plate glass windows had been painted black, and it stayed that way for close to half an hour. The door was monitored but no one else came in. We recovered our bearings, splashed water in our faces, I took out my hard contact lenses and cleaned them up, and we waited for the dust to settle from the total collapse of 1 WTC, which is what I later learned had happened. Then we got wet towels to breathe through and ventured forth and I figured that’s enough curiosity for one day.
Outside downtown was like World War III except the buildings were still standing; everything was heavily covered with inches of whitish powder, the streets were deserted except for emergency workers and staggering survivors, everyone wore dust masks except for those like me to whom they were handed, along with a bottle of water, by some cop or fireman. I thought, ‘Wow, at least in Viet Nam I could shoot back; this isn’t like there at all.’
The Brooklyn Bridge was closed and I was directed up to Canal Street to walk over the Manhattan Bridge. Once in Brooklyn ordinary citizens were lined up along Flatbush Avenue with water, wet towels, directions to bathrooms, etc., just like in the New York City Marathon. It took me about an hour to walk home. I went up to the fourth floor and looked out the window northwest, to see the Twin Towers gone from the horizon, with the smoke from which I had emerged billowing upwards as it continues to do this morning.