I got to work especially early that day. I did the usual routine of buying my coffee, going outside by West Street for my cigarette, and heading upstairs to the 87th floor to my office. It was a Tuesday and I was the first one in.
I sat at my desk and responded to my e-mails when Christine came in, who was later joined by Fred and Joseph. Christine and I chatted about our plans for the day and I commented on how she was in early. She said that later that day she was going to leave and head over to our other office on John St. to get some work done.
At this time, it was about half past 8. Shortly after that I heard a noise, It sounded like I was on the platform of a subway station and the train was coming full speed ahead. I remember thinking “What the hell is that?” It was then that I heard a crash, the ceiling came down, and fire consumed parts of the office and the entire hallway. I was terrified.
My boss Christine said “Yvette, get under the desk” to avoid the ceiling coming down on me, so I did. The fire was unreal and the smoke was getting thick… I could hardly breathe. I crawled over to my boss’s cubicle to grab onto her and reached for my cell phone so I could call my sister. Christine grabbed a phone and called 911, she waited on hold then hung up. We could hear the sirens of the fire engine instantly after the crash. I looked out the window and saw streams of what I thought was water coming down, I later found out it was jet fuel. I was scared… I was confused. It felt like a dream, as if I was not even there.
The service on my phone was down and Fred was calling out “who is here?” Christine answered for the both of us “Yvette and Christine are here, what do we do?” Fred came for us, grabbed bottled water out of the fridge, paper towels to cover our faces and led us out the side door to the stairs. We ran around the hallways looking for the stairwell… now sure where it was we followed some other people, some brave enough to stay behind and fight the fire. We made it to the stairs and proceeded down as fast as we could without panicking… after all we still had no clue what was going on.
We reached the 78th floor stairwell and it was locked, a man tried to break it down with a fire extinguisher and failed, the door was metal and was impossible to break down, he then tried to bash in the wall next to the door to create a passageway to crawl through… again it wasn’t going to happen.
People yelled “Open the door” unaware that it was locked. We then had to be re-routed upstairs a level and find another stairwell. We were finally steadily moving down the stairs, and we were all calm. We joked and laughed, a man from the 88th floor told us that a plane had hit the building… we just assumed it was a small plane and that everything was going to be all right.
We eventually got down about 40 flights of stairs and saw firefighters sweating carrying all their equipment and wearing their heavy coats. It was another relief to us. It was still a little smoky but we knew it was smokier upstairs so we gave them our bottled water and wished them well. They were all young, good-looking and so unbelievably brave. They smiled at us and looked so focused. They are my heroes!
As they were going up, the last thing on our minds was that they may never come back down, but I don’t believe they ever did.
We talked some more on the stairs about the bomb in 1993, and conspiracy theorist on the stairs had there own conclusions about what was happening… but no one took it seriously. As we were approaching the plaza level of One World Trade Center, the firemen said “Just keep walking” and advised us not too look out the windows, and continue down the escalator… but of course we did.
It was completely gray, glass was broken and debris was scattered through the plaza, what was usually filled with employee’s, vendors, and tourists was completely empty and look like it had been deserted. The firemen insisted that we keep walking and we all cheered as we got to the mall level.
The sprinklers sprayed us from above, “we made it” I remember Christine saying, with tears in her eyes… and we finally met up with Fred again, whom we had lost on the stairs. It was then that I heard that same terrible rumble, what a horrifying sound.
Christine and I ran, the lights went out and you could not see a thing, Fred later said that he thought he had gone blind. We hit the floor. We held on to each other in a fetal position as a tidal wave of concrete dust, debris, and shattered glass, came flying all at once from behind, rolling over our backs for what seem like forever. I screamed “PLEASE GOD… PLEASE GOD” repeatedly.
It was over, my shoes were gone, one of my shoes was blown off and I just sort of ditched the other. You could hear people calling for each other “Is anyone near me? Please reach for me” Christine then answered her “Yes! We’re here, we’re right next to you.” and we reached for her… no one wanted to leave anyone behind… we were a team that had a mission to help and to survive.
Two World Trade Center had collapsed. We grabbed onto each other’s ankles and crawled through the darkness, over the glass and debris. We didn’t know where to go or what to do. It was impossible to breathe because of the concrete dust and we still could not see. I could hear a man calling out “over here” we crawled over to him toward a faint light that turned out to be the 1/9 subway entrance. We stood up. A few people stood in the doorway looking for help.
We heard a fireman call out to us “Is anyone down here?” “Follow the light and I’ll lead you out” we saw a faint light but it was difficult to see, it was like putting on your brights on an incredibly foggy day. You couldn’t make out faces, you could just see figures and hear voices. I couldn’t walk; I had no shoes on. A man, like an angel came over to us and offered to carry me on his back. Without complaint, without hesitation… only he did say “Damn girl, whatcha been eatin’” I responded by hitting him a number of times in the shoulder and laughing… he made me feel better.
We reached the street level, he put me down, Christine, and I gave me a hug and thanked him. Christine returned his laptop, which he dropped while he picked me up and he was grateful. Our faces were gray from the soot and concrete dust, I don’t think I could ever recognize him, although I wish I could.
We were in complete shock of what we saw…the streets were covered in soot and papers, the air was thick, and there were ambulances and fire trucks everywhere. Christine and I grabbed each other’s hands and just walked away…we did not feel safe, we were frightened and confused. We still didn’t know that a second plane had hit tower two, a third the pentagon, and down in PA…all hijacked planes, all those lives, all those innocent people. We were still clueless.
Reporters ran up to us asking questions like “what floor were you on? What did you see?” we were in too much shock to answer and just kept walking, jogging, then running away from this disaster. A few paramedics asked if we were injured. Fireman grabbed my face to wash it off; they said “make sure you clean your eyes” …that happened more then once.
We saw Giuliani and a team of reporters coming up an adjacent street but still we kept running. As we ran away people with tears in there eyes and a looks of complete disbelief looked at us, grabbed at us saying “God Bless You”. Strangers jumped in front of us and snapped pictures.
I ran hand in hand with Christine to my sister’s job on Hudson and West Houston. As we reached the corner, Christine hitchhiked and got her a ride to midtown where she lives with her husband. I got to my sister’s job and she had just left the building so I was met by her boss who hugged me and screamed “GET GELINA”.
I walked into the bathroom to wash my face and change, my sister walked in and screamed, I have never seen her so happy and so upset even in my life. We hugged, cried, and hugged some more. I did not realize that from her boss’s office you have the perfect view of what used to be the World Trade Center. She saw the whole thing… the planes hit…the smoke… and the two tallest, most powerful building in NYC collapsed to the ground. It must have been horrible for her.
At her office, the TV was on and I was all that really happened… my jaw dropped. How? Why? Unanswerable questions rolled off my tongue. I survived that? It seemed unfair that all those brave people could possibly have gone down with those buildings… and I was still alive. Still this did not compare to how the felt for the next couple of days.
It was the first day, and I was still too much in shock, none of what was going on really soaked in. I was just thankful for being away from all of it. This experience has given me hope in mankind, faith that people are unselfish and kind. Then there are those who are still here… helping, donating, giving all they can to make this less tragic, easier to bare.
I still cannot comprehend what happened on September 11th, not completely. I have been to Special masses for the victims, vigils, and have been glued to the television and AM radio…I want to know. I want to help. After this calamity, I realized how insignificant some of my daily complaints were, and how important people and love are in my life. I have been overwhelmed with support, warm wishes and love; from friends, family and strangers.
Don’t take life for granted… count your blessings and Thank GOD!