Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2001 - that evening

I'd written this to send to all my friends and family the evening of September 11th. I'd sent my father the briefest of emails, just basically "Please tell everyone I am fine", in the morning; in the evening, I went to a friend's home on the Upper West Side & took the time to write this account. I thought I would post it here today.

Hi all. Glad to still be here & writing. As all of you probably know, I was laid off from my job at Fiduciary, where my office was on the 97th floor of WTC 2 (the second to get hit and the first to collapse) in July. However, I was signed up for a 2-day, Fiduciary-sponsored employment outplacement workshop on the 11th and 12th, from 9 am to 5 pm, on the 93rd floor of WTC. So I was actually there yesterday.

First - a bit of layout. The World Trade Center complex actually covered a space of several blocks under the Towers themselves. The north tower was called WTC 1; the south (where I used to work) WTC 2. There was a public plaza between them with benches, a big fountain, restaurants, and stages for performances in the summertime. Under the plaza there was a large shopping mall. The Chambers Street subway station extends several blocks north from there. There was an entrance to the mall at the south end of the station which you got to by walking through a passageway that ran the length of the station (which was twice as long as a subway train as the A&C platform was north of the platform for the E, which terminated there). Along this passageway were staircase exits that led up to the street, one exit every couple of blocks. There were street level entrances to the mall.

I overslept my alarm a bit, having been up late the night before updating my resume. I'd left myself some extra time - the security checkin was going require standing in line to get a temporary ID. The subway connections went well, though, and I got there about 8:40 am. I decided to go upstairs and walk outside since it was a beautiful, warm day, I was several blocks away from the Center, and the subway station was hot.

I had just put my hand on one of the northern street doors to the mall when I heard a terribly loud zooming noise, punctuated by a tremendous bang, just over my head - like standing right next to one of the Macy's 4th-of-July fireworks. I was wearing a cap as it was sunny, so I had no upper peripheral vision - but what I could see was that everyone in the street looked up, screamed, and started to run towards the doors I was by. I jumped to the conclusion that a small plane had just crashed into one of the buildings and that debris was falling towards the street, and I didn't take the time to look up to verify that, just bolted into the mall as fast as I could go, past a newsstand, down a set of stairs, and then around the corner to be out of the path of any wreckage that might make it through the doors. At that point I became more concerned about being caught up in a panicked stampede (well, i already was) so I ducked into a restaurant where I joined all the patrons as far from the entrance as we could get. I told everyone that I thought a small plane had crashed. They gave me some water, and when the panic outside died down I went out again.

By this time, the police were evacuating the mall. The doors I'd come into weren't
an option, and the exit leading to the subway station was just a little ways away, so I went that way, stopping to tell arriving commuters not to go into the mall because there had been a plane crash & the mall was being evacuating & that they should go the other way.

I decided to walk north in the underground passageway until I was well clear of the crash zone, then go upstairs to reconnoiter. This being New York, a small plane crashing low on WTC 1 would not necessarily preclude attending a workshop on the 93rd floor of WTC 2 - there would probably be a delay while emergency personnel did their jobs, but life would go on.

Then came the second blast. It wasn't loud, but it sounded big. People began to stampede again. I ran with them until I could get into an exit turnstile (one-way revolving gates the height of a person) out of traffic to take a minute to figure out where exactly I wanted to run. I had heard someone say "the plane that crashed just blew up" and that was one possible explanation but the blast just sounded too big for that and there was also the possibility that we were being bombed & that there might be more - so I was trying to decide whether upstairs or downstairs was the better option, when I saw an even BETTER option in the form of a train pulling in downstairs. I didn't care which way it was going, just that it was going somewhere else - which was EXACTLY where I wanted to be as soon as possible, wherever it was - a lot faster than I could possibly go on foot. I ran for the nearby entry turnstile as fast as I could, pulled out (HONEST!) my Metrocard, paid my fare, dashed down the stairs & got into the train. I think I said something to a couple of people who were getting off and I know that I turned around to see a woman standing on the platform looking confused and said "Just get on the train!", which she did. Everybody was staring at me.

I rode to 23rd street and went to the diner where I sometimes eat breakfast before tours - they always have a TV on and I figured I'd ask them to change to the New York One all-local-news station if something wasn't already on.

Obviously it was and that was when I first understood what had actually happened.

I had a big glass of orange juice then decided to head on over to the pier.

Once I got there there was plenty to do - at first I just opened the MKC office to people who were passing by looking for working phones or water or whatever, then in the early afternoon we (all the barge regulars) started helping to run a free ferry service to New Jersey which got a lot of people to New Jersey using three party boats that volunteered, the Horizon (capacity 600), the Royal Princess(225) and the Amberjack (200). The Royal Princess is berthed at North Cove downtown and was covered with debris so she looked rather ghostly but everyone was happy to see her. I helped out with crowd control until about 6 - by then the edge people had had earlier had turned into tiredness, so with the possibility of stampedes looking pretty low (it takes energy to stampede & that was just plain gone) so I headed uptown to a friend's apartment.

That was pretty much it.

The good part of the story is that out of my 600 former coworkers at Fiduciary, only 130* are unnaccounted for. I'd spent yesterday assuming they were just all dead (the work was good in part because it kept my mind off things) but they started to leave after the first crash so most of them got out. Also I had a wonderful message from one of my early "refugees" at MKC who'd spent an hour trying unsuccesfully to reach her husband, who worked in WTC1, that she was OK & her kids were OK and best of all, her husband was fine.

Anyways - glad to be here & writing this. Love all of you!


*Very strange, in hindsight, that this was good - but the plane had hit far below the offices and I actually spent the morning thinking that most of the 600+ people I'd worked with there had to be gone. As it turned out, there had been announcements made in the building that people should remain in place, and if they'd listened, many more would have died - however, as many of my former co-workers had been there for the first WTC bombing, they chose to evacuate. In the end, less than one hundred did not make it out. That sounds terrible - and it is - but you have to remember that there were over five hundred sighs of relief.


LauraEhlers said...

Bonnie this is amazing. Here in the middle of the USA all we could do was watch helplessly. That feeling was so overwhelming- I can only imagine how you felt being there. At the time this happened I was working in the ER in a city hospital. I had many friends who were fire and EMS. The pictures of the ER workers waiting for patients who never arrived still haunts me

Laurie Stone said...

Wow, Bonnie. It sounds like if you were 10-15 minutes earlier in your day, it would've had a very different outcome. I get chills. An amazing story.

Laurie Stone said...

Bonnie, It sounds like if you were 10-15 minutes earlier getting to work that day, it would've had a very different outcome. I get chills. An amazing story.

pia said...

I'm so glad you weren't on the 97th floor

bonnie said...

Thanks all. Still very grateful for how everything worked out that day.

Haralee said...

OMG!! I am glad you were laid off and knew your way around the area to evacuate safely.

clairesgarden said...

bless you. so glad you were not in the building. it affected people worldwide, I kmnow someone living in scotland who's brother was killed there that day.

Thisismike2 said...

Thank You

Unknown said...

Thank you. I could not even watch the replays today.

Peter said...

The world is a better place with you in it
So many others gone
So much blood and treasure spent with So little result.