09/11/01 – WTC – I was there

I have posted this before (remember when people had myspace and they had blogs?  Yeah there…), but figured for today, it is appropriate to share my story (of thousands!) in this little corner of my world.  When I originally typed it, it was way too long, so this will be in 2 parts.

I’m going to try to go back to a place where I usually avoid going back to…  Because when the World Trade Center collapsed, I was there. Not in the Towers, but close enough.

So this is my story from 9/11.

Part I:

I lived in Rutherford, NJ, but at that time I drove to Weehawken and caught the bus to NYC from there, as it was much faster. Weehawken is where the Lincoln Tunnel is located, so literally right across the Hudson River. A whopping 7 minute bus ride into NYC.

I remember hearing on the radio how it was going to be a gorgeous day, sunny, not one cloud in the sky. I had spent my weekend at the beach and was bright red and sunburned. It hurt carrying my backpack around, as the weight of it was right on my shoulders, the part that was mostly burned. I’m mentioning this because hours later I completely forgot about my sunburn, but I’m going off on a tangent here.

I worked at a small computer consulting company in downtown NYC, in Nassau St. My subway stop was off of Broadway, just a block from the World Trade Center. It had been a normal commute, nothing eventful. As I got off my stop, while climbing up the stairs there were tons of people gathered around looking up. I was running a few minutes late already “Fuck, I’m going to get to work even later. Stupid people. Probably a guy jumping off a building but everyone has to stop and see!”

I get to the stop of the stairs and turn around. One of the towers was covered in black smoke coming off of it. “It was a bomb!” “It was a plane!” “It was a missile!” everyone had witnessed something different. My boyfriend at the time, Paul, worked across the street at One Liberty Plaza (right next to Century 21, for those of you familiar with the store), across the street from the Towers. I try calling him, but get no cellphone service. My eyes are fixed at the building.

“OH MY GOD!” everyone yells out at once. A body is slowly falling from the towers. White man, dark blue suit, white shirt, red tie. Looks like a little toy, not moving, falling upside down, his arms and leg spread as if he had been doing jumping jacks. My heart beats faster, my eyes swell up with tears. Emotion overcomes me. I had never seen someone die in front of my eyes before, and being helpless knowing that one is definitely gone, was too much.

I turn around and start running towards my office, my back turned to the Towers. As I turn into Nassau St I hear an explosion, the ground shakes, the sound is louder than anything I ever heard. I’m crying at this point. I don’t look back. I’m thinking the smoke I saw caused the explosion. Oh, my god, more people are dead.

I run into my building tell the doorman what I had seen, get the elevator and go up to our office in the 13th floor. When I get there, my office phone is ringing “The other building got hit! They’re evacuating my building, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to go” Paul says. “Come to my office, come to my office!” I looked out the window. Despite being a relatively small building in downtown NYC (only 14 floors), I have a clear view of both towers. Both are covered with smoke.

Trisha, the accountant gets there a few minutes after I do.

By the way, this is the map of where I was. The green square was the World Trade Center
The yellow square One Liberty Plaza, where Paul worked
The red square was the exit from my subway stop
The pink pin, where I was when the second building got hit
The blue pin is where I worked. (You have to remember the magnitude of the Towers — they were several blocks tall, and you could see them from over a mile away, I worked less than a quarter of mile away.)

View Downtown NYC in a larger map

I quickly call my parents in Brazil and say “I’m calling from my office phone, go to the instant messenger!” we get disconnected before I can say anything else, but I go online. My mom gets online and tells me what’s going on. This was around 9:15am and she’s telling me two planes hit the Towers. My boss gets online (he worked from home or on site most days) and I’m relaying the information to him. My mom tells me where the planes were coming from, where they’re going to, the flight numbers. I tell that information to my boss. “No way” he says “that’s a bomb.” Our TV upstairs has no signal (no cable, only antenna) so I can’t see the news.

I don’t know whether to believe the information my mom is giving me. After all, she’s seeing it on TV in Brazil, here in the US they must know better, right? How can she know all that information when my boss has CNN on and he’s not hearing anything about planes.

Our phones are ringing non-stop. People want to know if we’re ok. We are, we’re far away enough. How about the consultants? They work onsite, after all, and one of the biggest clients was American Express, on building #7, across from the towers. But no worries, they don’t get there before 10am, chances are they hadn’t even left home yet.

A few minutes later Mike, one of our consultants, arrives with bloody hands. I had spoken to him on the phone many times, but despite being in the company for months, still haven’t met him, as he was always at Amex. He was on his way to the building, when the second building got hit, and windows from a nearby building exploded and he got hit with the glass. Nothing too bad, a few bandaids took care of it.

Paul then arrived a few minutes later. Scared out of his mind. He had seen people jumping (falling?) off the building too. He’s shaking. The four of us keep staring at the window. Staring at the Towers.

Phones are still ringing, clients and the sorts making sure we’re ok. Still talking to my mom and my boss through the IM. Then the unthinkable happens. One of the Towers starts collapsing. On TV later we could clearly see that the Towers went straight down. From my window a couple of blocks away all we saw was the smoke coming our way. We can hear the thunder and my building is also shaking. We got desperate. Had the building fallen sideways, my building could have been hit either directly, or by a domino effect. I’m scared out of my mind. We all are.

Let’s leave.

I shoot a message to both my mom and my boss “The WTC is falling, we’re leaving!” turn off the computer, turn on the night phone answering machine, and we all head down the stairs.

(to be continued…)


Filed under Non-Running Stuff, Random

11 responses to “09/11/01 – WTC – I was there

  1. “here in the US they must know better, right?”

    It’s shocking how little they really did know. And what’s more shocking to me, what’s always bothered me the most – is that after the 1st tower was hit, and people in the 2nd tower wanted to leave just for safety, some stupid security guards got on the loud speaker and told everyone to go back to their desks. We did a whole study on this in grad school – about how you have to make your own decisions with the information you have, and how time and time again, people are derailed from doing what they should do because someone seemingly in a position of authority, someone you think has more information than you do, gives you bad/wrong information and then you make a decision based on that.

    A lot more people would be alive out of tower 2 if those useless guards let them leave. It’s awful.

    My brother worked for Lehman, and they spent a lot of time in those towers every week, but that day he was lucky…in his office at 43rd, with a clear view to the towers. He said after the 1st one was hit, they all knew. There was no way it could have been a bomb or a commuter jet. Not from the damage.

    I can’t wait for part 2 – I’m curious what you did for the week when the island was on lockdown.

    • It took over an hour until we found out what happened here, meanwhile in Brazil, minutes after the second tower got hit, they knew everything, flight number, where it came from, where it was going to (which, let’s face it, for those people who families were on those flights, that was crucial information! AND for those people who families were NOT in those flights, also crucial!). Amazing how much news that day took a while to come out.

      And how many more people died because of misinformation…

  2. Oh my gosh, Carla! I have chills. Thank God you are safe!!!!

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  5. Oh Carla. How frightening! I cannot imagine seeing someone fall from the building like that, then being in your building, with it rumbling, not knowing what was going on. 😦

    What Velvet said is so scary. It reminds me of how people in the military are trained to act on command, against their best judgment sometimes. It would be interesting to read her study.

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