A Story of Disaster

Written on September 11, 2009 at 09:53 pm

Note: This post is from a text file on my hard drive that was created on 9/11/2001 at 9:19 pm. I then emailed it to my family and friends, and it was passed around the Internet and even reprinted in the Orange Leader and the Beaumont Enterprise.

A first hand account of the WTC Disaster

I woke up late, around 9:15 today and quickly started my morning routine. My phone was ringing, but I assumed it was the office wonder where I was, so I didn’t bother to pick it up.

At 9:45, I left my apartment building and stepped into the street. There was a very large crowd of people, and it they appeared to be looking at my building. I stepped back across the street, and once I reached the corner I could see what they were looking at – the twin towers, 3 blocks up the street, on fire.

Fire was pouring from both the towers, on what appeared to be the same floor on both buildings. The second tower had damage coming out of the center of the flaming floor, descending down another 5 or six floors like a distorted letter “T”. I stand there astonished, trying to determine if I am still dreaming. Five or ten minutes pass, but I’m oblivious staring at the damage. Then a loud sound rings out, and the second tower begins to collapse on itself like in a tape of a building being demolished.

The crowd around me starts to panic, turning south down West St away from the crumbling building. A giant cloud of dust and debris starts rolling down the road, headed right towards me. It feels surreal, like I’m in an action movie running from the exploding fireball.

I start running. Women are tossing their high-heels and running barefoot. Parents are picking up their kids and running. Dog owners are holding their pets to their chests as they run. I rip off my shirt and cover my head with it to keep my mouth and eyes clear. I’m sprinting faster than I thought possible, glancing back and watching the ball of debris heading right at me.

After a few minutes, we reach the southern tip of Manhattan, and a giant cloud of debris and dust and falling on us, raining paper, dust, pulverized concrete, and slivers of fiberglass. I briefly consider jumping into the Hudson River, but notice a restaurant with people inside.

I enter the restaurant, finally able to breathe without my shirt over my face (but the air is still heavy and impure). The restaurant staff is handing out water and tearing up their linens for people to cover their mouths with.

Survivors are walking around frantically, trying to figure out what happened. There are no radios or televisions, so the only news reports are via businessmen who receive headlines on their pagers. Cell phones abound, but only a few are lucky enough to get through and make a call.

The air is finally starting to settle down when all of a sudden, you can no longer see 10 feet out the windows – the remaining tower has collapsed. More people rush inside to avoid the debris.

Eventually I’m able to start making long-distance calls on my cell phone – no one reports being able to make a local call. I reach my family back in Texas and let them (and all my friends who have contacted them) know I’m alive. I make a few other calls, and let others know I’m still alive.

Everyone is talking, comparing stories of what they’ve been able to learn on the phone, how this could happen. Various stories abound – the Pentagon was destroyed. Fighters shot down an airliner headed to Camp David. Car bombs at the State Department in Washington.

The Staten Island ferries have slowly been taking people off of Manhattan. A horn is heard from the water, and a giant line of tug boats is approaching. The tug boats approach the waterfront, and makeshift gangways are made of boards and ladders to allow people on board. Boat captains are broadcasting their destinations – Brooklyn, Staten Island, New Jersey.

I’m not sure where to go. Rumors abound that they are allowing residents to return to their apartments, but the local rescue workers are doubtful. We’ve heard reports that Manhattan is being evacuated, and have no idea when we’ll be able to return.

I’m diabetic, and my pharmacy (along with many other shops I visit every week) was located in the World Trade Center. Who knows if I’ll be able to reach my doctor, so I decided to brave a trip to my apartment to retrieve my pills and blood sugar testing kit.

Battery Park City is a ghost-town. I feel like I’m in a post-nuclear war movie – the streets are empty except for inches of debris, papers scattered, bikes and baby strollers abandoned. All the footprints are in the opposite direction I’m headed on my trek.

As I approach my building, a police officer stops me, trying to turn me back to the boats leaving the island. I explain my medical situation, and he escorts me to my building.

The building is shutdown – lights off, people leaving with luggage. A maintenance man takes me to the one running elevator, the only light coming from his flashlight, as we travel up to my apartment. I run in, grab a backpack and fill it with my medicine, toiletries, and a few other essentials that are lying around.

As I head back to the boats, the wind picks up and the debris is being blown around like a sandstorm. I’m forced to shut my eyes and walk blind, guided by the railing along the walkway. The air starts to clear, and a man sitting on a park bench, listening to a portable radio, offers me a mask.

I take the mask, finally able to put my shirt back on, offering some kind of protection against the debris. I approach the waterfront, and board a tug boat bound for New Jersey, where I’ve arranged to stay with friends.

It is now around 2:30 pm, and someone offers me a bagel, my first bite of food today. I’m crowded on to the tug boat with many others, and we’re finally starting to realize what has really happened. I’m exhausted, leaning against the boat’s anchor and feeling the fiberglass from the debris dig into my skin. We’re slowly moving along the shoreline, looking at the damage to the familiar buildings we pass every day.

The towers are gone, the Manhattan skyline changed forever. In the five years I’ve lived in New York, the towers have become a standard part of the sky – always there, not matter what the weather. It is almost as if all the stars disappeared from the sky.

Other familiar buildings are damaged – windows blown out, bricks gone and only the skeleton frame visible on edges. Piles of debris on top of buildings. People trying to determine which buildings are what in the immediate neighborhood of where the World Trade Center stood.

It’s now 9:45 pm, 12 hours after I stepped out of my apartment building and started what I can only call a nightmare. The gravity of what has happened is only starting to sink in.

At least one person I know is likely dead (he was on the 98th floor of the south tower), and others were in the subway stations underneath the World Trade Center and haven’t been heard from. And not to mention the thousands of other people who have lost their lives.

I’m now homeless for the near future, with no idea when I’ll be able to sleep in my bed or even wear my own clothes. I’m exhausted, and it’s finally time to fall asleep and hope that I’ll awake to find this is all a dream.