Downtown NY Survivor Stories

I’m still in shock. I wanted to post something as some small way of communication - I tried to discuss this briefly with my mother on the phone, but it was too hard. I’m not even amongst those hardest hit by this tragedy, but having been through it, I’m trying to deal. So maybe some sharing this way will help.

I work on the 40[sup]th[/sup] floor of a building south of the towers (close to the Staten Island ferry terminal); my department windows face north. After the first plane hit, we had several visitors to the department looking out the windows, and so had several witnesses to the second hit.

After we evacuated the building, we milled around uncertainly on the plaza outside, trying to keep everyone from my company together, and calm. Then the cloud of debris from the first collapse forced everyone to move, fast. We started trekking north on the FDR to escape the fast-moving cloud of soot, smoke, and falling debris. It was impossible to keep everyone together. I wound up with a group of nine people, including a couple of people from my own department, one other manager and her secretary, and a few others from different departments. We all knew each other pretty well (one of the guys is one of my drinking buddies), so we at least had some good camaraderie.

We quickly fell behind the others from my company though, as one of the women travelling with us has pretty bad arthritis, which makes walking painful enough under ordinary circumstances. Just as we reached a point where we needed to decide to continue north or turn west toward downtown proper (just north of the towers), the second collapse occurred. We continued north. And continued.

Cell phones were working sporadically, if at all. Constant use when able to connect drained batteries quickly. We stopped frequently to rest and discuss strategies for getting home (two Staten Islanders, three Brooklynites, three Jerseyans, one Long Islander). We figured we’d look for a bar or restaurant, someplace we could stop and have a drink, something to eat, catch some news, and decide what to do next. We walked.

Eventually, the throng of people headed up the FDR and continuing northward passed us by, and we became characters in a badly-written melodrama, out of place and seemingly lost. Irreverent jokes began to break up the tension ("Well, we need to go this way if we want to cross to Brooklyn, but we’d have to go that way to find someplace where we might get some news, and that way over there doesn’t look too friendly . . . " “All right Cleveland! Rock and Roll”). Passers-by, noticing the veneer of soot, would ask, “You just came from there?” We stopped at a firehouse, and chatted with some guys filling in from a different battalion on different shifts just to keep the firehouse staffed. They hadn’t heard any news about transit, and didn’t know of any local bars.

On Houston St., we found a place to stop, rest, and eat, as well as watch the news. Everybody finally managed to get through to loved ones with reassurances, and find out that their own loved ones in the area had escaped. The limited contact we were able to establish with other firm managers via cell phones revealed they were in no better position, and no better coordinated.

Outside once again, we solidified our travel plans. Our Staten Islanders were heading back south, as we’d heard the ferry was running from Pier 11. We bid them Godspeed. Two of our Brooklynites (including the poor woman with arthritis) could get home on the F train; the other got in touch with a relative in north Manhattan with whom he would stay. Our little group now numbered four, three of us from Jersey and the other from Long Island.

We pressed on toward the PATH train, hoping to catch one northbound to Penn Station to check on the LIRR status for our Islander before going back into Jersey. No dice, but we were told the PATH was running from 34[sup]th[/sup] St. Luckily, we were able to catch a bus carrying any and all north free of charge. Once at Penn, we found the right train was indeed running, and we bid farewell to our Islander. Now, it was just Jersey.

The PATH train was not running from 34[sup]th[/sup] St., but NJ Transit was running trains to Newark out of Penn Station. We boarded there and rode to Newark. One of us needed to get to his car in Harrison, and was able to do so from there. Which left two of us who needed to get back on another train to go back to Hoboken. One lives there, and was finally home. I had to board the familiar old PATH (service had just been reestablished) to get home to Jersey City.

And I was finally home. And alone for the first time that day. It hadn’t hit me, the enormity of it. My buddy had even said to me during the whole mess that I was one of the few people who didn’t panic. I hadn’t cried. I called my mom and my family to let them know I was all right. My sister has a friend who worked in one of the towers. Nobody has heard from her, and my sister is distraught.

I’m home today because the city is closed downtown, but I’m wishing I had something to do. I can’t get through to my friends and co-workers in Brooklyn to see if they got home okay, and just keep uselessly redialing. Watching and reading the news today, it finally did hit me, the enormity of it, the absolute horror, and I’m still crying.

Now, Guiliani is saying they’re going to try to reopen tomorrow, and the stock exchange will reopen. I know I’m going to be expected in; and I’ll have to tell others [i}they’re* expected in. I have no idea what to say to them. I have no idea how to reestablish any kind of normal workplace atmosphere. I have no idea.

My prayers are with you. I hope that your life can return to relative normalcy sometime soon. Know that people around the world are pulling for you.

I’m glad to hear that you’re alright, physically.