Jonathan Segal

jsegal@mac.com

 

 

Selections:

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2002

 

 

One View of Many…

 

The First Plane

The Second Plane

The First Collapse

The Second Collapse

Communications

Getting Around

Hoboken, NJ

The Following Day

Moving Forward

 

It has been a little more than 48 hours since the attacks began on the World Trade Center and I’m finally able to sit down and attempt to write out what I experienced that morning in the city. My hands continue to shake and have been on and off for the past two days. I’m experiencing a wide range of rolling emotions which seem to change from hour to hour. I walk around my house and without warning will suddenly break down in tears and shakes.

 

I live in Montvale, New Jersey, about an hour and a half commute to my office at 100 Broadway in lower Manhattan. I take the train daily into Hoboken Terminal and then the ferry to the World Financial Center. Occasionally, I will take the PATH train into the World Trade Center basement but unless I have early meetings or if it’s raining, I stick to the ferry. It’s the most beautiful way to come into the city. The twin towers ahead, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to the right, mid-town skyscrapers on the left…

 

I had arrived at Hoboken Terminal at around 8:20 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 World Financial Center, I spent an additional couple minutes talking with him before making my way up Liberty Street and across West Street around 8:45.

 

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.

map of WTC area

 

 

The First Plane

 

I had just crossed over West Street, a large 6 lane highway running the length of Manhattan and I was on the south side of Liberty Street walking up the sidewalk that sits across the road from the twin towers. Even now, it is the sound of the crash which I’m unable to remove from my mind. A high-pitched jet scream turned me around and I looked upward at the north tower. An explosion seemed to rip through the south side of the building and I have a clear picture of a large piece of metal flying down towards me and the street. At that moment, I cannot remember seeing other people although there had to have been tons of them around. I have a number of freeze-framed images burned into my memory as I sprinted up the street zigzagging around falling fire, metal and concrete. There is a fire house on the corner of Liberty and Washington. It is a beautiful, old fire station with an arched brick doorway and I ran under that trying to get out from under the raining debris. The whole event at that point couldn’t have been longer than ten or fifteen seconds. I stood under that doorway and watched people running, falling and screaming away from the explosion. I waved two people into my covered area. Burning paper was everywhere and at my feet landed what looked like a bank statement from Chase Manhattan on fire. The road seemed to be absolutely destroyed and littered with burning debris.

 

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 the Trade Center. After about 10 or 15 minutes, I was able to regain some composure and decided to leave and head up to my office on Broadway. The fireman had closed the garage doors and there was some confusion as to how to get them open again. I don’t remember any other details about that including how they were finally opened. People lined the streets staring up at the flaming tower and I walked briskly towards Church Street with my head down, my body shaking.

 

The Second Plane

 

I had just crossed over Church Street and walked towards the concrete plaza where vendors sell food when the sound of a jet pierced the air again. I looked behind me and up again and saw an airplane rip into the side of the south tower. It felt as if I was directly below. Within a second or two, I experienced an amazing number of sensations. The first, and most horrific, was the realization that this wasn’t an accident and that someone was flying airplanes into these buildings. Throughout this entire event, that sensation was the absolute worst and continues to haunt me because there was potentially no safe place to be. The second sensation was the heat from the fireball halfway up the building. I stood frozen for a couple seconds and have imprinted flashes of people’s faces running past me in a panic. I watched fire rain down and could see bodies cart wheeling out of the holes in the side of the building along with fire and metal. It was just too much for me to handle. Some people were falling down on the ground and others were jumping over them running up the street and through the plaza towards Broadway. There was a great deal of screaming and panic at that time.

 

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.

 

 

The First Collapse

 

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 Brooklyn Bridge. We walked through a number of building corridors and plazas where people were collapsed, covered in dust vomiting and coughing.

 

The Second Collapse

 

We had arrived near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and were moving towards the onramp with a crowd of people when the 2nd Trade Center came down. Looking back, I could see another enormous tidal wave of dirt snaking through the other buildings in the area. Shortly thereafter, people began running back from the bridge screaming that they were bombing the bridges. Oddly, I didn’t feel any more terror at that point, most likely because I was maxed out. Dorothy and I just continued to head north, through Chinatown and finally into the East Village. We had been separated from the rest of our office workers. I have a friend who lives in the village and we made it to his apartment but no one was there.

Along the way, some shops had set radios and televisions and they were crowded with people straining to see the carnage. In Chinatown, people were selling fish along the streets as if it was just another day. I shook at those images.

 

We then walked up to 10th Street where a friend of Dorothys’ lived. He was not home but his girlfriend was and allowed us and two other people from the street up into the building to sit down, wash up and make phone calls. We all sat there hypnotized by the images on the television.

 

Communications

 

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:

 

10:19 a.m.
To: Dad

Call Kozue [my wife] and tell her I’m fine. We evacuated my office and I’m walking somewhere. War zone.

 

10:46 a.m.

From: Kozue

To: Jon

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

 

10:51 a.m.

To: Kozue

Can’t come home and you can’t drive here.

All tunnels and bridges closed.

I’m ok. Will call you when I can

 

10:57 a.m.

To: Dad

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.

Horrific.

 

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 50th street by the United Nations building. The streets were packed and I walked by a number of hospitals and lines of people who I had assumed were student doctors volunteering to help. Throughout this trek, the sounds of fighter jets filled the sky and my heart raced as I kept reliving the sounds of the morning. I sobbed a number of times behind my sunglasses during this walk. Traffic was at a complete standstill on first avenue yet emergency services had cleared a lane for ambulances and other authorized vehicles. From my perspective, the city’s reaction was immediate and incredible. All taxis suddenly disappeared from view and police officers seemed to all by in sync as to how to handle the situation. I have to admit that it made me feel much better to see some sort of organization within the midst of chaos.

 

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.

 

Getting Around

 

Upon finally learning that subways were up and running in some areas and the PATH was operating back to Hoboken, I left my friend’s house around 5 p.m. and headed for Jersey. My feet and legs were killing me. I had walked probably 80 blocks at that point and my dress shoes didn’t help. Subways were extremely unusual at what would normally be rush hour. In my continuing confusion, I took the F train the wrong way towards Queens rather than downtown. The mood on the trains was solemn and quiet but the conversations I overheard all centered around the tragedy.

 

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 Hoboken so we walked on together to the West side and up north looking for these boats. Lou’s sister worked in the South tower of the WTC but had escaped safely before the collapse. I don’t remember what we discussed but he had seen the crashes from his office building on 34th street and had immediately gone to a church to pray.

 

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 Weehawken, NJ where I was told shuttle buses would bring me to Hoboken. The boat trip over was quiet. Everyone stood and stared southward as the sun set. Some people were crying but most just stood with their mouths open, hands on their head.

 

Hoboken, New Jersey

 

Hoboken’s bus terminal had been turned into somewhat of a makeshift emergency center. They gave me free sandwiches and water which was welcome after eating nothing all day. After being around so many people throughout the course of the day, I just wanted to sit down alone with a view of southern Manhattan and eat my food and try to think through what I had experienced. Most of Hoboken terminal was taped off but I jumped a gate and walked to the edge of the Hudson River and was able to experience a single moment of solitude before a police officer came over and screamed at me at the top of his lungs for ignoring the gates. I ignored him as well and walked back to the terminal seeing that my train was supposed to leave at 10:40 p.m., the last one of the evening. It was about 9 p.m. at that point.

 

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.

 

 

The Following Day

 

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 Wall St. right now, she recommended that I just try to relax. The help line was definitely a nice resource to have if only having someone reinforce that what I was going through was not unusual.

 

Moving Forward

 

On Tuesday night while at Hoboken terminal, I learned my brother’s wife was going into labor. I prayed that the baby wait until Wednesday before being born because I didn’t want this day to be this child’s birthday. That’s what he did. Scott Parker Segal was born on Wednesday and, to me, represents life, growth and recovery.

 

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 the Brooklyn Bridge screaming

-          Fish in Chinatown

 

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.

 

Jonathan Segal

September 13, 2001

jsegal@mac.com