Now that I can begin to think clearly again, I would like to take
the time to thank each and every one of you for your concern of my
well-being. It was a very close call, and I am grateful to be
As you probably all know by now, I narrowly escaped from the World Trade
Center attack this past Tuesday, unlike the thousands who are still
trapped beneath the rubble. At 8:48am on Tuesday morning, I was
reading my email like I do every morning. I had just gotten off the
phone with a traffic engineer at the Port Authority regarding a file
that I had transmitted to him on the previous day. As I was finishing
off my usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I heard a loud explosion,
which was immediately followed by tremendous building sways and
vibrations. As I was thrown out of my chair,I immediately thought
that this was an earthquake, but still thinking rationally, I thought
that it was abnormal since there are no earthquakes in NYC, especially
of this magnitude. I remember thinking that the building felt like
it was going to collapse from this initial explosion.
As I picked myself up and ran to the emergency staircase located in the
core of the huge building, I saw through the east facing windows debris
and fireballs falling from the top of the building. The building
had stabilized by the time I reached the stairwell, and evacuation had
commenced quickly but calmly. Not knowing the gravity of what was
happening above us, people had started pouring into the stairwell from
the hallways of the different floors. I saw a coworker from my floor
(72nd), and we held and consoled each other.
There were no public announcements in the stairwell, but the
evacuation seemed to be going smoothly, there were no more explosions as
far as we could tell, no smoke coming up the stairwell, and the building
had stopped swaying. We all felt like we were out of imminent
danger. As we started to make it down the stairwell, people started
chatting and gathering their composures. I heard some people who
had been there in '93 telling others that this was a piece of cake since
the stairwell was dark and full of smokein '93. Others were joking
about how Mr. Silverstein, who had just recently taken control of the
complex, must be fuming at what was happening. A few moments
passed and people began to receive messages over their pagers that a 767
had accidentally hit our building. There was no mention of a terrorist
attack, and at no time was there any panic. Mobile phones were
completely out in the core of the building due to its immenseness and
the large distance from the core of the building to the exterior where
signals were usually stronger. There was no smoke at all in
the stairwell, but there was a strange peculiar smell, which I later
remembered it smelling like how it does when one boards an
aircraft. I later found out that this was jet fuel.
Soon we heard shouts from the people above us to keep to the
right. I started seeing blind people, those with difficulty
moving, asthmatics and injured people filing down to our left.
People were burned so badly that I won't go into describing it.
People kept filing down orderly and calmly, but stunned.
Sometime around the 30th or 40th floor, we passed the first
firefighters coming up the stairs. They reassured people that we
were safe and that we would all get out fine. By this point, they
were already absolutely breathless, but still pushing upward, slowly and
unyieldingly, one step at a time. I could only imagine how tired
they were, carrying their axes, hoses and heavy outfits and climbing up
all those stairs. Young men started offering the firemen to carry up
their gear for a few flights, but they all refused. EACH and EVERY
ONE of them. As I relive this moment over and over in my mind, I
can't help but think that these courageous firemen already knew in their
minds that they would not make it out of the building alive and that
they didn't not want to endanger any more civilians and prevent one less
person from making it to safety on the ground.
We continued down the stairwell, slowly and at times completely stalled.
The smell of jet fuel had gotten so unbearable that people began
covering their mouths and noses with anything that they could find -
ties, shirts, handkerchiefs. Every few floors, emergency crew were
passing out water and sodas from the vending machines that they had
split open from the hallways.
I had no idea how much time had passed by as I didn't have my mobile
phone with me. Around the 20th or 15th floor, the emergency crew
began diverting the people in our stairwell to a different stairwell.
They led us out of our stairwell, across the hallway where I saw
exhausted firemen and emergency crew sitting on the floor trying
to catch their breaths. I began to think why? What's going on?
This whole operation looked very confusing.
Nobody was giving us any indication as to what was going on. The
wait in the hallway to get to the other staircase was excruciatingly
long as we had to wait and merge with the people who were coming down
the staircase into which we were filing. Why had they diverted us?
As we started to get down to the lower floors, water started to pour
down from behind us. I figured that a water pipe had burst or that
it was water coming down from the rescue on the higher floors.
At this moment for the first time since the initial explosion, a
panic began to grip me. Only floor 7, then 6. A few more to
go, and I would be free. I couldn't wait. It didn't matter that the
water was ankle deep. I was a few floors from the ground.
Floor,,,,4,,,,then all of a sudden, a loud boom, and the building began
to shake unbearably again. People started falling down the
stairwell as smoke started to rise from the bottom. The emergency lights
flickered and then went out. The building was still shaking, and I could
hear the steel buckling.
Rescuers below us shouted for us to go back up the stairs. At this
moment, I was choking and shaking tremendously. I managed to climb
back up to the 6th or 7th floor and opened the door to that floor.
The water had already risen to my ankles, and the floor was completely
dark. A fireman led us with his flashlights to another staircase
by the voices of another fireman who was guiding him through the
darkness. We finally made it across that floor to
the other stairwell where we were greeted by the other fireman and told
to hold. The look on that fireman's face said it all. He
said something under his lips to our fireman indicating the severity of
With the image of the firemen communicating to each other and hindsight,
I believe that the fireman had whispered to the other one that Building
Two had collapsed.
After a few minutes of huddling by the stairwell on the 6th floor,
we were given the green light to run for our lives. I made it down
six flights with a few other people and came out onto the mezzanine
level of our building. I don't know what I was expecting to see
when I got out of the stairwell, but I was not ready for this
apocalyptic scene. It was completely covered in white dust and
smoke. My initial reaction was that I couldn't believe that one
plane, albeit a 767, 80 floors above our head caused all this damage on
the ground floor - inside. I covered my head and ran towards the
huge opening in the north side of the building through which we were
being evacuated. As I approached this threshold, the firemen
yelled to us to get over to the wall of the building
quickly. Debris was still raining from all sides of the
building. We could see the other firefighters who were outside
standing underneath the cantilevered parts of the black immigration
building (4 and/or 5 WTC). At their cue, we ran from our building to the
outside world and back underneath the immigration building. I was
completely disoriented, coughing, and looking at the strange new
landscape at the WTC plaza - burning trees, wreckage, fireballs and
dust, nothing short of a nuclear winter. I climbed over huge
pieces of steel wreckage and made my way through to the skybridge
leading to 7 WTC (building 3 to collapse). From there, I descended the
escalators down to the street level onto Vesey Street and trotted to
safety onto Church Street. I immediately looked back and saw
the charred remains of the upper floors of my building. Smoke filled the
sky, and I began to have this eerie feeling that WTC 2 was not
there. I couldn't be sure because of all the smoke that was
billowing from my building blowing eastward. As I was trying to
find WTC 2, I saw the unthinkable happen in front
of my eyes. WTC 1 began to disintegrate from where it was
burning. I turned around and ran.I later learned that another 767
had hit WTC 2
around the floors where I sit in my building. I later
learned that WTC 2 had collapsed when we were still inside my building
on the fourth floor when it began to shake for a second time. I
later learned that I had been spared from the sight of people falling
from the higher floors. I am grateful to be alive and uninjured
and to be able to share this life-changing experience with you.
And, I am so grateful for the courage of the firemen and policemen who
gave up their lives to help us down the burning tower.