Total Panic

Date Submitted: 09/04/2002
Author Info: William (Staten Island, NY - USA) 
Occupation: Accounting/Finance
Lived in NY on 9.11.01?: Yes
Knew someone who perished?: Yes

Well, I was at work on the 13th floor of Tower One at the WTC. (We used to joke that they only put the lucky people on the 13th Floor, and I guess, in a way, it was lucky.) I had just gotten in to work, sat down at my desk, and was just turning on my computer. My office looked over the center plaza and I was looking at all the folks scurrying along the plaza, running around the fountain, rushing to work, while I was waiting for the computer to kick in. All of a sudden my chair and desk shifted about three feet towards the plaza and then shifted back. I thought the building was going to topple over and that we were all goners. First thing in everyone’s head was “Bomb.” I looked out the window and saw glass and debris falling past the window. I then jumped up from my desk, looked out across the office and yelled for everyone to get out. We all started to head down the emergency stairs when about the sixth floor we encountered heavy smoke. The people in front of me turned around and yelled for everyone to go back because the smoke was too thick. I looked around and everyone started going back to the office. Me and two others looked at each other and decided the smoke wasn’t that bad so we went for it. Took a deep breath and just started decending.

Luckily by the third floor the smoke was gone and I yelled up to the others to just hold their breath for two floors and to continue coming down. Don’t know if anyone did, but it didn’t seem right to go back to the desk. When we got to the lobby fire doors we opened them to an unreal site. There were pockets of fires around from where the ceiling tiles had fallen, smoke and dust everywhere, and people lying on the floor totally burnt from head to toe. We didn’t know it at the time but apparently a fire ball had come down the elevator shafts and exploded into the lobby. Some firemen, policemen, and WTC staff were helping the burned people on the floors and some staff were directing others where to get out of the building. I saw one girl lying in the corner of the lobby who wasn’t being attended to. I ran over to see if I could help, but she was in total shock. Skin was burned black and peeling, all hair was gone on her face, and her clothes were charred all around. She wasn’t even screaming. Just sitting there with this blank stare on her face. At least she was still alive.

Then a policeman came over and told me to get out and that he’d take care of her. I proceeded running through the lobby of the Marriot, through the Tall Ships restaurant onto Liberty St. and crossed West St.. As I was crossing the street, looked up and saw the ring of flames around the top floors. Glass and debris were still falling. As I looked around I saw some debris burning on West St. that turned out to be body parts, an airline seat, and some other items. As I got to the other side of West St., I stopped to turn around again. Everyone was just standing there looking up and screaming. That’s when I saw what they were screaming at. The bodies falling from the top floors. Everyone was in panic. I tried running to pay phones to call everyone who went back to the office from the stairwell to tell them the smoke wasn’t that bad, but the lines were long. Nobody’s cell phone was working and if someone said their’s was, they were mobbed. I finally found a pay phone on Albany St., about two blocks away in Battery Park City, that wasn’t too crowded. Only three ladies in front of me. As I was waiting, we heard this huge roar, and looked up towards Church St. and saw the second plane and then heard the loud explosion. Everyone just dropped everything and ran towards Battery Park. That’s when everyone realized that the first plane was no fluke. I stopped just before the park and had a cigarette to calm the nerves. Everyone came up asking for one since they had left theirs in their offices. One minute later the full pack was empty.
While I was walking towards the Staten Island Ferry I met some fellow workers who had gotten out by another stairway. As we were standing there we heard talk of the Pentagon also being hit. We just stared in shock at the burning towers. As we continued our quick pace to the ferry, one of the people suggested walking up to the Brooklyn Bridge to cross over into Brooklyn. They didn’t want to be anywhere near downtown if the towers fell over. They all took off for the bridge and I waited by the ferry terminal with other people who were mulling around in shock and panic.
At about 10, we all saw a ferry pulling in to the dock and some folks couldn’t wait. They started banging on the gates trying to climb over. Just as they were opening the gates, the first tower fell. I turned around and saw a wave of people running for the gate. Behind them I saw the smoke blooms coming through the buildings. It was surreal. I turned around again towards the ferry and saw people panicing and trying to climb a chain link fence, trying to jump in the water. Apparently, in their shock, they thought the buildings were going to all fall down by the domino effect. The mob getting on the ferry was in hysterics also. People pushing and shoving, some folks falling and almost getting stampeded to death. I helped one lady get up and she just started running again, didn’t even acknowledge any help. Once on the ferry, everyone went grabbing for lifejackets.

The smoke from the collapse was all over the outside of the ferry. The ferry was packed. Once we took off, we couldn’t see anything because of the smoke. Traveling a couple of hundred yards out into the harbor, the smoke cleared. I walked to the back of the boat and stared out at the sight in front of me. That’s when the second tower fell. I went walking around the ferry and saw some people still freaking out. Some were totally dazed. When I got home, the first call I made was to my daughter. She was in school at the time. Then I called my mother, she had no idea what I was talking about, which calmed me down alot, and then I called some friends. After that I just went to the bar. The bartender said it very well, “If they’re gonna get me, they won’t get me sober.” I’ll never forget the event and I’ll never forget the friends and acquaintances that were lost.


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