'The problem is in the other building, please return to your desks'


'I was working in 2 WTC on September 11th, 2001. It was a normal morning for me. I started at 8am as usual. I remember looking at my manager's editing on some reinsurance documents, when the windows on one side smashed, letting in shards and debris.

And then I got the smell of burning diesel fuel. My first instinct was 'Fire'! I grabbed my pocketbook, forgetting to change into my sneakers, and headed towards the elevator bank. 

We were diverted by someone who was shouting 'Take the stairs'. And off we went into the nearest staircase. People continued to join us (we were on the 51st floor) as we headed down. I heard some conversation about a plane hitting the other building (1 WTC). There were rumors that this might have been a terrorist attack. Halfway down, I recall the PA system in the staircase came on and someone said 'Attention, the problem is in the other building, please go back to your desks. We repeat, the problem is in the other building and is being addressed. We ask that everyone please go back to their desks'. Well, I thought, all well and good, but if there is a fire, it would be better to be outside rather than inside. And if my employer decided to take issue with my decision, so be it. 

I noticed that many people went back after that announcement, but several others, including me, continued to descend the stairs. I don't recall how long it took to get down 51 flights of stairs, but my knees were like rubber when I finally reached the bottom, which led to the mall area below the building - not outside. It was empty, and a rather eerie silence prevailed. I looked down and saw the flattened remnant of a coffee container, and thought 'that is not a good sign'. There was an entrance / exit that led to the Mezzanine. The thing that stopped me going that way was that it looked like a scene right out of an invasion. And that's when the ground shook, and more debris and fire starting raining down.

Someone cried 'By Borders, there's an exit!', and we all headed there together. Yes, there was an exit, and a police officer grabbed my arm and helped me up the last few steps. There was a crowd out there, but they were not looking at us, they were looking up at the sky. I crossed the street and turn around to see what they were looking at, and I will never forget what I saw. The Twin Towers were on fire, near the top of the buildings.

I realized that I was one of the lucky ones, and decided to keep on walking, as I had family 10-15 blocks away. Later that day, I had access to the TV, and saw 6 hrs of non-stop news recapping the morning's event. I didn't go to my home until the next morning, as the news indicated that most services were not running.  From the window, I could see crowds walking across the Brooklyn bridge returning to their homes on foot. 

Next morning, as I walked to the Path lines, there were barriers on the street preventing people from walking in the direction from which I came. I reached the Path line and was going to put my card through the turnstiles when someone placed their hand in front of me, and said 'it's free'. I headed for the Hoboken platform, noting that everyone looked dazed. On the platform, I noticed a familiar face, another traveler I often saw in the mornings. We ran across and hugged each other, crying (finally acknowledging the emotional pain of all we had been through), and thankful to be alive. And safe.  Her boyfriend greeted her when we got off the train, crying tears of joy too.

I later learned that my neighbor, who worked with the Port Authority in 1 WTC, was not so fortunate as me, when she went down the stairs there. She said that it was littered with body parts, and that they had to step over them, and  that, at a certain point, the lights went out in the stairwell. Now that must have been scary.

I also discovered that my brother was photographing the Towers just as they came tumbling down. Fortunately, someone grabbed him and slammed him face-down on the pavement. I then learned that one of my co-workers, an asthmatic, who had no place to go because all the nearby stores were filled with panic-stricken people, was also caught in the dust and debris when the buildings tumbled down. She survived, but was never the same person afterwards. A little piece in all of us died that day. No-one connected to this event will ever be the same'.

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