One View of Many…
It has been a little more
than 48 hours since the attacks began on the
I live in
I had arrived at Hoboken
Terminal at around
or so, normal as far as my morning schedule goes. It was a gorgeous morning
without a cloud in the sky and I spent the 15 minute ferry ride speaking to a
friend who I bumped into on the boat. When we arrived at the
The scale of the following image is most certainly wrong and there are a bunch of additional streets which don't show up on this map. It's meant to serve as a rough outline of the area.
I had just crossed over
The firemen from the department began to run outside and look up at the towers. The second imprinted memory of that day was hearing one of them scream out “Lets go boys…suit up…we got work to do!” I remember everything about the tone of that fireman’s voice and I will never forget it. One of them grabbed me and sat me down inside the fire station’s enclosed corner office on the street. He told me to just wait there and that I was going to be okay. The two people who had run under the doorway with me were also there and we held onto each other tightly. The firemen were in their trucks and on their way within a minute because when I looked up, all their vehicles were gone and they had closed the garage doors to the station. Those men were in the building with 2 minutes of the crash and I later realized that most, if not all, of them might not have made it out.
A television in the office
was on and it was about three or four minutes before the news broke in with
video of the burning tower and stated that a plane had apparently crashed into
I had just crossed over
I don’t remember running. I think I just walked quickly up onto Broadway and south towards my office building. The streets were filthy with paper and soot. When I made it to my building, the lobby was crowded with people who had run in to get off the streets. I can only remember seeing a co-worker who I immediately went to and embraced, falling down on the ground crying and shaking.
I don’t remember taking the elevator upstairs to our offices which are on the 10th floor. I vaguely remember anything until I got to my desk where I sat down and tried to control myself. There were a number of people in my office but I think it was fairly quiet. After a half hour or so, we all went into our lunchroom to discuss the situation and I sat on a couch shaking and trying to maintain some composure although I doubt I was successful. We had taken a head count to determine who was there and who wasn’t and our CEO stated that we were advised to just stay put until further direction came from building management. Afterwards, I was able to telephone family members letting them know I was alright but I can’t remember any of that activity at all.
At some point, there was a loud rumbling when the South tower began to collapse. From the vantage point in my office, I could see an enormous black tidal wave of material barreling towards the building and then it became absolutely black outside. Someone screamed that the tower had fallen and the dynamic of the situation changed once again becoming even more frightening. The PA system came on and advised everyone to evacuate the building immediately. People were running around grabbing t-shirts and towels to cover their faces with. The kitchen was filled with my colleagues attempting to soak these items with water and I did the same with a t-shirt.
When I entered the emergency
stairwell going down, it was filled with floating soot which had blasted in from
the street ten floors down. It was slow going but somewhat orderly. About
halfway down, we were told to change stairwells and I followed others through an
office floor holding on tightly to my co-worker, Dorothy. Descending the
staircases, the soot became thicker and people were coughing and covering their
eyes. It seemed to take an eternity to get down before we spilled out onto the
street and into the darkness and cloud of building rubble. It was extremely
difficult to see anything. People were walking quickly away from WTC area. My
hands still shook and Dorothy and I held onto one another following the crowd
heading East and North towards the
We had arrived near the base
Along the way, some shops had
set radios and televisions and they were crowded with people straining to see
the carnage. In
We then walked up to
Throughout this entire experience, my cell phone was not working yet I saw a ton of other people having no trouble at all. I believe someone said that my SprintPCS cellular service would be affected because their antenna sits atop the north tower of the WTC. What was working, however, was my BlackBerry handheld and I was in non-stop communication with my wife, my father, my mother and friends via email.
A sampling of emails I both sent and received are below:
Call Kozue [my wife] and tell her I’m fine. We evacuated my office and I’m walking somewhere. War zone.
Jon…I am home trying to call you…tell me how I can get you…I will pick you up…please come home…I love you
Can’t come home and you can’t drive here.
All tunnels and bridges closed.
I’m ok. Will call you when I can
Walking now. No subways and no trains.
Chaotic but calming down a bit. Huge billows of smoke coming from what’s left of the WTC.
The BlackBerry was the most unusual of lifelines. Just knowing that relative peace existed in other places was soothing although my hands continued to shake. In the middle of all this, I received some SPAM mail entitled “Are you sure your website is healthy?” As angry as I get when I receive unwanted email, this one brought it to new levels.
I eventually ended up walking
to my friend’s house on
I arrived at my friend’s apartment and spent hours sitting on his sofa watching television and figuring out how I was going to get home. No car services were running out of the city but the NJ Transit and subway websites were giving updates on the status of transportation. Those organizations also were doing a good job updating their websites but due to overall internet traffic, the sites were slow.
Upon finally learning that
subways were up and running in some areas and the PATH was operating back to
When I finally made it to 14th
Street, I learned that PATH trains were not running but ferries were
transporting passengers at some pier on 48th street over to Jersey. I
ran into a man named Lou who was also trying to get to
There was a mile long convoy of ambulances and emergency vehicles parked at Chelsea Piers on the West Side Highway. It was an incredible sight. Throughout this entire walk, I was able to view the newly changed skyline at the bottom of the city and it was a breathtaking view of emptiness and smoke.
We hopped onto a tug boat
which was transporting people over to
My BlackBerry had stopped receiving emails during the afternoon and I assumed it was because they cut power to my office building. My cell phone only seemed to work one out of 15 calls and even then, I would be cut off after a couple seconds of connectivity.
I had also assumed that the last train of the evening would be filled with people but it was empty. I arrived at Montvale station and was the only person who got off. My last visual of the day was seeing about nine cars still in the parking lot, unusual at that time of the evening and although I realized that people were having difficulty leaving Manhattan, this final scene broke me down again and I cried as I made my way to my car. It seemed to be closing in on the end of a day which was anything but normal.
My wife and I embraced for a while after I returned home and I picked up both my sleeping children and just held them for a moment. My daughter, Kaia, who is now 4 ½ knew something had happened earlier in the day, most likely from seeing my wife’s reaction to the events unfold on the television. When I had spoken to her on the phone earlier, she continually asked me what had happened and I could only tell her that buildings were falling down near my office. Holding their sleeping bodies when I came home was the cork in the bottle of my day. After showering and washing the cement dust from my hair, I climbed into my bed and was met with more horrifying realizations as I relived the day over and over again in my mind. Although completely exhausted, it took me more than three hours to fall asleep, mostly because I couldn’t stop shaking.
Wednesday, September 12th was, in some ways, more difficult than Tuesday. I was receiving telephone calls non-stop, seeing new images on the television and in the newspaper…it was difficult to escape but I felt that I needed to expose myself to it so I could get past it.
I would be standing in my
kitchen or walking in the front yard and just suddenly break down in tears at
the memory of the preceding day. At some point, I telephoned a help line that
had been listed in the paper that morning. I spoke to a woman named Katy who
told me that what I was experiencing was normal. She said that I was suffering
from post-traumatic stress syndrome and I should be aware of that. She
recommended that I try to return to “normal activities” and when I informed her
that “normal activities” meant being back in
On Tuesday night while at
My hands shook as I penned the first half of this story but I feel better now than at any other time over the past two days after writing this out. My mind includes a slideshow of snapshots which will be etched there forever:
- A large piece of metal raining down above me from the impact of the first plane on WTC 1.
- The Chase-Manhattan bank statement on fire at my feet
- The heat and sight of the fireball from the second plane as it ripped into WTC 2
- Bodies cartwheeling out of the holes in the WTC
- Random faces sprinting past me in horror after the second plane hit
- Dust filled stairwells escaping from my office building
People running back from
Obviously, there are thousands of people whose experiences were significantly worse than mine and I can't begin to imagine them nor do I want my experience to be compared to theirs in any way. The destruction of my office neighborhood on the television only reinforces the disturbing memories I have. I see my walking path. I see the Trinity Deli where I buy my morning breakfast. In fact, I saw Steve from the deli covered in dust while walking towards the Brooklyn Bridge. He looked completely broken and I doubt there is anything left of his store. The levels of loss people are going through now are indescribable and in the greater scheme of things, my escape from injury should make my story less important although at this time, I have difficulty thinking like that. For a split-second, I felt absolutely and completely alone and helpless during some of those events. It's a feeling that I would never wish upon anyone in the world.
Much of the personal loss I feel actually is directed towards the firefighters who I interacted with, albeit briefly, in those minutes before 9 a.m.. I would walk by them every single morning and see them sitting on the bumpers of their trucks, drinking coffee and laughing. They moved at incredible speeds to GO INTO what everyone else was running from. I simply don't know that kind of courage.
September 13, 2001