I am sure that there are many many people who are dead that we know. I was there for all of it, from the time that the first plane flew over. I was to meet with Mayor Giuliani this morning and give a presentation for a commission at 10:00. They told me to come an hour early because of security so I was riding in a cab down Broadway at 8:45 when the first plane flew over. I couldn't believe it, I heard the engines and looked up, he was just above the buildings, a small jet I thought, and a moment later a boom. Tons of beautiful white paper was drifting down on Manhattan.
Our Democratic primary is today and my first thought was that a candidate had dropped political leaflets. Or at worst a small jet had hit the World Trade Center and blown out the office stock, an accident possibly because of a heart attack; a lone pilot is enough to fly small jets here. I directed the cab a few blocks further and saw an amazing sight, a beautiful day and the North Tower on fire. I watched as one person after another jumped to their deaths 90 floors up as the flames hit them. I turned away after the third one and was staring at the South Tower when the second plane hit. The concussion took my courage. It was an explosion beyond description, I felt that it was 1945 and I was in Berlin, or maybe Pearl Harbor in 41.
I could feel the heat three hundred yards away; everything on four or five floors, people and office equipment, came raining down on the crowd. We all ran north while it fell and got away before it hit because it was high up. As I glanced back I saw the contents of the floors: all on fire, people and building, killed without a second to reconsider their life. I got clear and as I was running by City Hall I heard my name called. A woman, a Mayor's aid, who I did not know recognized me and pulled me past the gauntlet that had surrounded City Hall. We didn't know what was happening and where the other "bombs" were so no one wanted to move, I figured that I was safe in there. Giuliani had turned City Hall into a fortress over the past two years. We sat calmly on the steps of City Hall inside these iron gates and rings of well dressed and heavily armed mayor security detail and felt safe, all the while watching thousands of bewildered people run up the street.
While sitting there speculating as to the future the South Tower leaned over and fell onto Wall Street, and onto the emergency workers who had assembled there. It came down to the screams and wails of those watching, including mine. Never in history has anyone seen such a sight: A 110 story occupied building crashing onto other occupied buildings.
Suddenly there was this 30' cloud coming at us that looked like the sea. Solid, roiling and white, we didn't know what it was or if it was a biological weapon or even if one could breath in it if it wasn't. I knew that I was in danger, the size and force of the cloud told me it would blow out the windows at City Hall and that I should run for my life.
At that point if was pandemonium. I have never seen a New Yorker panic before, but we knew that something had happened way beyond our sassy world. We all scrambled behind city hall and jumped over the barricades and fences and got into the street and ran north. I threw one man's crutches over the final iron gate and then him. I never looked back. Periodically while I was running I would pause at crowds of people assembled around cars with loud radios so we could get news. No one knew what else would happen. After the second explosion everyone knew it was so coordinated so maybe the tunnels go up next. All of New York stayed in the middle of the streets. Millions of people walking, and no one would go near a building or tunnel or subway. The subways were all shut down. Everywhere there were people crying. One man saw me trying to use my cell (not working) and asked to call his wife in the World Trade Center, he couldn't comprehend what had happened. She was in the South Tower and certainly dead. I had to explain to him what I saw, but he was stilted emotionally and couldn't comprehend it. I would have waited longer with him but the cloud was still coming up sixth avenue so I kept going. Everywhere there were long lines at the pay phones, which were mostly still working, desperate people trying to locate their families. I saw many cabs commandeered by Hasidim, they were yelling at other Jews on the street in Hebrew offering assistance to get them out of the area. I finally got home. All my sense of safety in my beloved New York City gone. We have fighter jets flying about our heads now, F14's and F16's at impossible speeds circling Manhattan as if in an air race. Now when I hear a jet motor I wait for the explosion.
I rode my bike all the way downtown to retrieve my wife this morning. She works a few blocks from the World Trade Center (WTC), but she made it out as the first building started collapsing and she walked/ran with some co-workers up to 14th Street where she holed-up in a safe house (an East Village apartment of a co-worker far from any tall or monumental buildings) and finally got through on the phone to me. Traffic was horrendous and there were emergency vehicles everywhere. It was almost like stunt riding, but I wasn't going to stop until I was sure she was OK and we could make it back home together. First, I thought I would probably be killed by some crazy ambulance. Then, whenever people heard planes flying overhead, everyone would run for cover and I thought I might get nailed by a third plane. However, by then, the planes were all F14's and F16's and that somehow made me feel safer. I finally made it downtown and my wife and I started our long walk home to 94th Street and Broadway. It was one very surreal and tragic 90 block walk. Everyone was orderly and deliberate, but there were people openly weeping, some covered in dust and debris and others just completely lost and in shock. By the time we made it home we were covered in dust, but we're grateful to have been able to even make the walk home. Many others weren't as fortunate. I think my wife was/is in shock, so I'm sticking close to her. If she requires further treatment, we'll wait until the hospitals clear out over the next few days. Her office building has been evacuated and her company is closed until further notice. So, I think she'll have a few days off to recover a little.
It feels a little like surviving a battle or being at war. We're happy to be home safe, but we've all seen things today that we'll never forget and we're not looking forward to hearing about who we might have lost. All of our immediate friends and family are safe, but there are too many people working in the WTC or nearby for us not to know someone hurt.
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