I usually take the 4 or 5 trains to Wall St. to work everyday. My office building is right next to the New York Stock Exchange. Tuesday morning however, I took the PATH train in from Hoboken, N.J. to the World Trade Center. My boyfriend and I had just returned from San Diego the night before. Our flight had been delayed because of a fire in Newark airport, so I missed the last bus to Manhattan. I ended up staying at my boyfriend’s apartment in Hoboken.
On Tuesday morning, I left Jim’s place around 8:20am, about a half hour earlier than usual, because I still had my luggage with me from the night before. I knew that it would take me longer than usual to get to work with the extra bag. I reminded myself not to rush, since I had purposely built in extra time for the commute.
When I left his apartment, I could see the bus to the PATH station pulling in across the street. I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to cross the intersection because of the traffic. I ended up missing that bus, and taking the next one, which came about 5 minutes later. The ride was normal, and I again reminded myself to take my time as I rode up 2 sets of escalators with my suitcase.
When I came out of the Path station, the first plane had already crashed into WTC 1. Only when I exited the turnstile in the mall/concourse area did I realize something was horribly wrong. A man, lying on the ground surrounded by police officers was choking uncontrollably. Some people were running out of the building, and others were walking. It was completely silent. A few pair of shoes were scattered randomly in the middle of the mall, where people must have run out of them and left them behind.
I didn’t know what happened and thought there might have been a gunman. I couldn’t run with my suitcase, so I walked fast and pulled my bag as quickly as I could out of the building. I exited from WTC 4, immediately in front of WTC 1. When I got outside, thick black smoke burned my lungs. I looked up as debris and whole pieces of office paper floated down from the sky. I then saw flames shooting from the top of World Trade Center 1!
Some people were running, but others were standing silently, watching what was happening. I felt as if I was watching a movie. It seemed too surreal, as if this couldn’t really be happening. Everyone had a cell phone, but there was no service. I tried to call Jim, but wasn’t able to. I asked someone what happened and they said a plane had just crashed into the WTC. It was hard to breathe and I decided I needed to get out of there as soon as possible. I went directly to my office.
There were about 6 or 7 people in the office at this point and no one had heard what was happening. When I told them, we turned on a radio in the office. We all tried using the phones, but the lines were sporadic. I finally got through to my boyfriend and left a message. It was 9:03am. We then heard that a second plane had just crashed into the second tower and we knew it was a terrorist act.
We were deciding if we should leave and then heard that the subway service was suspended. We decided to stay inside our office until we knew what to do. Suddenly our floor shook. We ran to the windows and could see nothing. Clouds of dust billowed up and we smelled smoke immediately. We thought the stock exchange had blown up. We found out later that the WTC had just collapsed.
We closed off the office doors and got into the middle of the floor, not knowing if our building was on fire. We tried to walk down the stairs, but after descending a few floors, there was too much smoke. We went back up and waited.
Finally, the dust cleared and we looked outside. It looked as if it had just snowed. An inch of grey dust covered the street, cars, even traffic lights. It was deserted. We eventually saw people exiting buildings in small groups wearing particle masks. We went down when we felt it was safe.
As we began walking home, we helped a woman who had been injured. She was in shock and not thinking clearly. She had dust in her hair and ears and blood on her face from a cut over her eye. We convinced her to get away from the area. Since she was able to walk, she came with us. She walked over the Manhattan Bridge with another co-worker who also lives in Brooklyn.
My boss, a co-worker (Jorge) and I walked in silence for at least 20 minutes towards the east side. Jorge had recently bought a condo in Battery Park City and was not sure his condo was still there, so I offered him a place to stay.
I don’t think it really sank in about how much danger we were all in, until the couple of days after the attack. I received calls from many, many people wondering if I was ok, some of which were people I hadn’t been in touch with in several years.
We couldn’t return to work, so we spent a large amount of time glued to the TV for the latest updates. Jorge, Jim and I walked endlessly around Manhattan, horrified at the enormous number of flyers posted everywhere, for those who were still missing. Telephone booths, hospitals and bus stops had become “Walls of Hope”. We stopped by Union Square, which became a place of mourning. It grew daily. It was a place to light candles, to post thoughts, to meditate, or just to be around other New Yorkers for support. It was overwhelming. American flags adorned cars, businesses and homes.
I wondered what had happened to the woman we had helped the day of the attack. I found out the following week from the co-worker who had walked her, that she was ok physically. She needed a few stitches for the gash above her eye, and she received some therapy for her psychological and emotional bruises. Most of the hospitals were prepared for a large number of wounded, but there were many fewer than they expected, so there was an abundance of help available to her.
All of my co-workers were accounted for, and luckily I didn’t know anyone who was missing. Jim later found out that a family friend, a fireman who was called to duty that day, was missing.
I feel lucky to have survived, but heartbroken for the families and friends of those who did not. I try now, to look at the few positive outcomes of these events: reconnecting with my friends and family, and putting my trivial worries and distractions in perspective. None of us will forget, but in time, I hope that we become stronger as individuals, and as a nation.