[I think I might have posted this before. It's a letter my wife wrote to my family in Germany a few days after 9/11, recounting her experience and to get it down as some sort of record:
14 September 2001
I wanted to tell you what has happened here, from my vantage point. This is not to scare you, but to let you know what I have been through and that I have made it out ok.
My office is directly across the street from the World Trade Center. As Birgit [my cousin who'd visited NYC 6 weeks before
] may have told you, my office faces the Trade Center, and the Towers are the only thing I truly see from there. If you have seen any of the local maps, they refer to the World Financial Center and the American Express and Merrill Lynch Buildings. My office was on the 44th floor of the Merrill Lynch Building.
I arrived at work at 06:40 hours and was preparing to leave the office at 09:15 with two co-workers to visit a client in New Jersey. We were to have left the building at 09:15 to get the car to drive there. At 08:45, the office was quiet as not everyone had arrived for the day. We heard, what I thought was the sonic boom of a military plane. [Fixer] and I had heard the same sound on one of our cruises when a Coast Guard plane "buzzed" the ship. The next thing after the boom, the building shook. Since all of our windows faced the towers, someone began to cry out, "My God, the plane is going to hit the Tower". Everyone raced to the windows to open the remaining blinds and I was no exception. I watched, in horror as the tail end of the first plane disappeared into the North Tower. At the same time it was disappearing, pieces of the fuselage were falling out of the plane while a huge fireball was coming out of the opposite side. We all stood there for about 45 seconds in total disbelief, thinking this was not real and rather a stunt for a movie script. At this time, I still was unaware the plane was a commercial jet and not a military plane. We believed this was a "freak accident".
My Vice President (the big boss of the department) was of sound mind enough to call out for everyone to evacuate the office. I grabbed my things and ran out, following my co workers through the suite of our office space. We considered this an emergency and walked down the entire 44 floors of the building, only to reach street level, almost directly under the burning North Tower. It appeared to me that my company were the only ones on the stairs. We have over 225 people working for the company, and with everyone coming out at the same time, the exit area was getting crowded. We had some people who had heart conditions. We tried to help them as much as possible down the stairs and out of the building.
We kept moving outside, to allow everyone an area to exit the building. While walking outside, I started to see pieces of the burning building floating down, seeming like a feather, until it impacted the street, and exploded like fireballs on the pavement.
I passed two people, who had apparently been pedestrians on the street, who were struck by burning debris. They were burned so badly, their bones were exposed. They were burned almost beyond recognition.
After being on street level, not more than 2-3 minutes, I kept saying , "We shouldn't be here. We are too close to the area." Just after I said this, I heard the second sonic boom, and the second plane impacted the South Tower, and debris again began to rain down on us. At this time, I was certain we were under attack by terrorists. All of this transpired in just 18 minutes.
We ran through my office building towards the Hudson River, on the West side of "downtown" Manhattan. I kept my wits together enough to know we had to continue to get away, moving North of the area. People were in a panic and many of us knew people who worked in the towers. One of the girls who worked in my accounting department had a boyfriend who worked in the Tower, apparently on the floor that was struck first. She was paralyzed with horror.
In the midst of all the confusion, I was able to locate my two immediate bosses. We stayed together and continued to walk North and away from the area. We continued about 15-20 blocks on foot as there were no vehicles to be seen with the exception of emergency vehicles.
We soon saw a taxi cab, that was locked with the driver standing by and watching with horror of his own. We were able to convince him to drive us to Penn Station. We were trying to get on a train to get out of the City as soon as possible.
It took us a long time driving, but we made it to Penn Station by 9:40. I made my way inside and called [Fixer] to tell him I was alive. It was now 0945. People were in a daze trying to figure out what was going on. No one that was in the Midtown area knew exactly what was happening, but they knew it was not good.
There was a train scheduled to leave Penn Station for my home at 10:15. My Manager and I were able to get on the train. We were packed into the train with no room, all hoping against hope to get out of the City.
At 10:30, an announcement was made that the train was cancelled; Penn Station was closed; and we would have to exit the train and get out of Penn Station, only to have to go out on the streets of New York City.
I was trapped in a City under attack, with no hopes of getting home in the immediate future.
My boss and I started walking away from Penn Station in case it was the next to be hit. We were also only two blocks away from the Empire State Building. We feared this may be the next target.
[Rumors were running rampant in the hours following the attack and if you listened to the news, bombs were going off everywhere ~ F
There was no traffic in the streets because the City had effectively been closed. It was surreal to walk in the streets of New York City with no sounds of cars, trucks, busses or overhead planes. People were wandering aimlessly, walking in the middle of the major streets of NYC, without knowing what to do or where to go.
We made our way to 42nd street, and watched, on the large exterior televisions as the Towers collapsed.
All businesses and stores had closed by this time; however; there had been people working on construction sites who had radios on. They allowed us to listen to the news. We walked a little further and stopped by a truck who was stopped with his door open allowing us to listen to a bit more of the news as we continued to walk on.
We attempted to find a hotel to stay in, however, there were none to be found, nor did I really want to think about spending the night in the City.
After wandering for hours, we were told that one of the bridges leading out of the City and towards home would be opened to pedestrians. This was on the East side of town, and "uptown" from where we were. We continued to walk towards the bridge among the masses of people just wandering. We were on a "mission" to get home and out of the City, no matter how far we had to walk.
After a while, we were now at 53rd Street and 3rd Avenue, almost on the East River, and at the midpoint of the island. The subways began working again and we were among the first to get on and get safely out of Manhattan. It took another few hours before I finally made it home at 16:30.
We have remained in the house for the past few days, glued to the television, trying to get as much news about what is happening as possible. The death toll is expected to rise to almost 10,000, if not more. Entire companies of 1500 people or more have been lost. We have no information whether my building, which is considered to be in "ground zero", will ever be able accessible again or not. Telephones are sporadic coming into and out of NY. We are awake now, Friday, since 05:30.
There have been several arrests overnight, where they believe there were three different groups, attempting to get on planes out of Kennedy airport and LaGuardia airport in NY, who were going to try to do more damage.
The World Trade Center was truly a world in itself. There were businesses from at least 15 different countries who had companies and people in the Towers. Japan had 31 companies, most of which were clients of my company. Deutsche Bank had offices there and 4 German nationals are confirmed dead with numerous others listed as currently missing.
What you see on television, if you have been watching, is nothing compared to having been there. It still seems like a bad dream, however, it is not. I have had a lot of pain in my legs from all of the stairs I walked down, and all of the additional walking, however, I sit here and say, "thank goodness I am here to feel the pain".
The people of New York and the surrounding states have pulled together for the rescue efforts. We will get past this and we will come back bigger and better than we were, once we have had the opportunity to grieve and heal.
I wanted you to know that I am ok. That is all for now.
We send our love to you all.
[As you can see, not long after New York's blackest day, we, and I speak for most NYers, were already looking to the future. We are an irrepressable bunch and as history has proven, 5 years later we are back in stride, back to our old form. I am proud, honored, and privileged to call myself a born and bred New Yorker and will be until I die, regardless of where I choose to live. ~ Fixer