September 10, 2003

New York on 9/11

The following story was submitted by Pete.

I was working in an office building in the shadow of the Twin towers. Every morning I would walk past the line of trucks that were being inspected before being allowed to enter the underground garage to make their deliveries. The strange thing about it is that the people in my group didn’t even know about what had happened at first. Our office had no windows and we found out when someone came in and asked us how we could be sitting there as if nothing was happening. I remember rushing to the south side windows to see what he was talking about. The first thing I noticed was all the paper flying around. It was like a bizarre tickertape parade. Then I saw the hole in the North tower. As strange as it sounds my first thought was “how in the hell are they ever going to fix that”. We had a clear view of the hole from our location and I could see the fires spreading. Then we saw the first body falling from the tower and we all went silent. It looked like a rag doll flying through the air. I remember wondering what might have caused that person to jump. Could it have been that bad that there was no other escape? Or worse did they fall because of some sort of damage to the building? In the silence we could hear was the continuous wail of the sirens as the emergency services converged on the building. That would be the background noise for the rest of the day. Even now, after 2 years, every time I hear multiple sirens I still get the awful feeling in my stomach.

Our building fire safety officer made an announcement asking us to stay in the building for our own safety. The streets were totally chaotic and we heard of several near misses from some of our coworkers.

I called my parents in New Mexico to tell them about what was happening and to see if they might be able to get some more info for me. Here I was right next to everything that was happening and I was calling ½ way across the country to get details. I also wanted to let them know that I was ok. The lack of knowing what was going on was the worst.

We had barely returned to our room when we felt our whole building shake. Back to the windows to see the flames starting to come from the south tower. At the time we had no idea that the second plane had hit that tower and we though that it might have had something to do with what was happening at the north tower. We soon found out soon enough though. After that there was no doubt that it had to be terrorists, but there was no real panic. Ironically our building was still not evacuated and they were telling us to remain inside as a precaution against falling debris. They didn’t mention that some of those debris were bodies. Part of me wanted to go out to see if I could offer any kind of assistance. I have first aid training and I knew that there would be a large number of people who might need assistance but at the same time I didn’t want to get in the way of the professionals. I was also somewhat afraid of the continuous reign of debris.

I didn’t see the first tower collapse. Several of us were setting up some workstations incase people from another nearby site were directed to our building. We heard a rumbling and our building started to shake again. I could hear people screaming and all I could think about was another explosion. We made a break for the fire exits on the North side of our building (away from the towers). I remember seeing my boss turn around and run back the way we had come. I figured that he was crazy and kept going out with everyone else. There was no way I was going to stay any longer.

We were lucky in that Building 7 mostly blocked the malignant clouds of dust. Things were really chaotic when we got to the street. People were crying and carrying on about the south tower collapsing but at first I couldn’t believe it. It just didn’t make sense, how could it fall? There was a lot of dust and smoke and I figured it would clear and the tower would still be there. After a minute or 2 the awful truth hit me, the South tower was totally gone. I knew that probably at several thousand people were probably dead and that a hell of a lot of firemen wouldn’t be coming out.

We were still looking at the remaining tower and more people were jumping from it. The people on the street were screaming at them not to do it but there is no way that they could have heard. I started walking north with several of my coworkers but we kept looking back. I was wondering what was going through the minds of those who were still trapped in the north tower. What could they possibly be thinking after seeing the other tower collapse? What were the last thoughts of those who jumped? The regrets that must have went through their minds as they leapt to their deaths. I thought about my daughter and if that had been me up there. I was constantly trying to dial my cell phone but the service was overloaded. Someone near by had a cell phone that was able to get through and I asked them to relay a message to my parents that I was ok. I found out later that they did get it and it eased their minds.
After what only seemed like a few minutes I heard another rumble and I turned and watched the second tower fall. It was a surreal experience. I felt like I wasn’t in my body, like I was watching a Tom Clancy novel happening. The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion and the last thing I saw was the TV antenna as it toppled down into more clouds of dust and smoke. People were screaming and crying all around me but I was totally numb at that point. It just couldn’t be happening I thought. Then I started to get mad at those who had done it, but who were they? How could they kill so many so easily? What would happen next?

I would like to say that the rest of the day passed in a blur but didn’t. I can remember every moment up till I finally got home late that evening after basically walking ½ the length of Manhattan. It was such a perfect fall day. I remember the crowds flinching every time a plane would fly overhead. The terrible realization that those planes were fighters and they were flying combat air patrols of the city. How everyone jumped when a loud bang came from a UPS building as they passed. The few cars parked on the side of the avenues with their doors open and the radios on and the crowds they attracted. Listening to Rudy on the radio asking for people to volunteer at the hospitals. Being told that there was a 4-hour wait for blood donations at the hospital and Red cross center when I stopped in to donate. The almost absolute silence in a bar where I stopped to rest my legs as everyone watched the drama played over and over on the TV. Watching fire departments from the suburbs pouring into the city to aid the NYCFD. Correction department busses loaded with officers heading to the site. The mayhem at the George Washington Bridge because no one was allowed across on foot. Watching as people filled up their cars and trucks to give people a lift to NJ. Watching guys in suits hanging off a truck to get a ride like something from a third world country.

One thing that really stuck with me was the absence of any type of panic though. Throughout the entire afternoon I saw countless acts of kindness. The NY reputation for rudeness went out the window that day and I don’t think that it will return. For me I still think about the final thoughts of those who died. I have made changes to my life to hopefully avoid having any regrets when my time comes. There are probably a hundred other thoughts in my head about that day but for now I’ll leave it here.

Posted by Jennifer at September 10, 2003 06:32 PM


Thanks for posting that, Jen.

Posted by: Susie at September 10, 2003 08:57 PM

I just read that post 6 hours after it was posted and was surprised that there was only one comment. Then when I clicked to comment I realized I had nothing to say.
Well, 'cept what Susie said.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at September 10, 2003 11:27 PM

There's really nothing to say. I wanted to comment on it myself, but couldn't really express myself. This really brought back that day...the sheer horror of it. I'm really glad Pete shared it with us.

Posted by: Jennifer at September 10, 2003 11:46 PM

One more "really" for good measure.

Posted by: Jennifer at September 10, 2003 11:46 PM

I know. I'm glad that there are people like Pete who can write about this, because I just can't - and I live on the other side of the world.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at September 11, 2003 08:24 AM

I visited NY once in the mid 80's. Still have a picture of myself on the observation deck of the WTC.

I must say that as a Southern boy visiting NY, I found the people to be helpfull and charming. The only rude ones I ran into were the people working in the subway token booths.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Posted by: Frank at September 11, 2003 10:17 PM

Thanks for sharing your story. Those of us who live out of the area, need to hear these stories. We read, we saw but we can never ever fully understand the impact of those on the ground and actually looking up at this massive destruction.I pray we never forget.

Posted by: Hilda at September 12, 2003 06:08 PM