USA/NY: NYC – September 11 20th Anniversary – My Story

Today is the 20th anniversary of September 11 attack, an event that unfolded right in front of my eyes two decades ago. I remember that day clearly, and even today, twenty years after, it’s still hard to believe that happened. WTC twin towers were an inalienable part of New York, I saw them every day, and had been to the top three times, the very rooftop open air observation platform. They were the two elements that made the Manhattan skyline the most beautiful in the world and the magnet for people from all over the globe. On September 11, 2001, I just took a PATH subway train from Jersey City, just across the river from the twin towers of the WTC (having had specifically chosen to live there for the view of the elegant buildings every morning and night, and even the moon occasionally rising in between them). I came out of the subway sleepy at around 7:30am, crappy drip coffee in my hand, trying to wake up, walked in the sea of people through the underground shopping mall of the WTC complex, past the still closed stores, and out into the open at the southeast corner. I worked at 60 Wall Street, just a couple blocks away from WTC, on the 43rd floor of the former JPMorgan tower. As I walked out of the darkness of the WTC , an absolutely beautiful sunny blue-skied day blinded me with light (“I wish I wasn’t going to work today, took a day off and drove upstate to go hiking in Catskills”, I remember thinking to myself). I got another coffee from a guy with a cart, walked past the statue of a businessman sitting on a bench, down Broadway, passed the New York Stock Exchange building, and rode the elevator up to my floor. The 43rd floor was almost at the top of the tower, one of the tallest buildings in downtown Manhattan after the twin towers of WTC. Beautiful sunny day outside. Computer powered up, another coffee on the desk, spreadsheets opening up, and another day beginning… Then, at 8:45 AM, all of a sudden, a massive BOOM, like a sonic boom from a plane, and the building shook and trembled. WTF was that? We all looked outside the window – facing south – there was nothing there besides some papers flying in the air. The open layout floor had conference rooms in the middle, so I couldn’t see to the other side, northwestward. But all the voices and screams on our floor were coming from there, so we all ran to that side. The northern WTC tower was on fire near the top, scarred by a dark line of damage, and CNN was reporting from all the TVs hanging around the floor about a possibly small plane having hit the WTC tower. The fire and smoke looked a bit too big for the small plane, but the news probably had more info. People watched in disbelief, but without shock or fear. Yet. Everyone got on the phones calling friends and relatives telling them about what was happening. Then, at 9:06, all of sudden, right in front of my eyes, in a clear view from large floor-to-ceiling office windows, a dark-bodied plane appeared flying from the south, seemingly quite fast and then – BANG – hit the tower on the left in a big flash of an explosion of fire and debris. The massive explosion happened first and the sound wave came a fragment of a second later. Right in front of my eyes! Not on TV! Somewhere at the back of my mind the thoughts of a terrorist attack happening flashed, but it was definitely not clear and in a total state of shock, me and everybody else, in total panic, dropped everything and ran for the exit from the building. Skyscrapers are being attacked and I am at the top of one of them! Subconsciously, came the realization this wasn’t an accident, and the city was under attack. In a stupor of shock, everybody dropped everything and headed for the exit, orderly and panicky at the same time. We all decided not to wait for the elevators and instead ran down 43 x 2 flights of stairs – a long sweaty descent to the bottom. A lot of panicked people on the streets, no clarity of what was going on and happening, “WTC on fire” and “NYC under attack” everybody kept saying. It felt like a Hollywood movie. It felt surreal, impossible, unrealistic, unnatural. We started going north and got to the NY Police Headquarters building that actually had a straight line unobstructed view of the WTC towers. The view was surreal – both towers were burning, left one seemingly a bit more than the right, with a lot of black billowing smoke. Having just descended from another skyscraper, I kind of assumed that all the people in WTC did the same, and nobody was left there. Not for a second did I think that somebody was trapped inside or jumping out of the building. I remember just standing there mesmerized and looking at the burning WTC and thinking that hopefully they would put down the fires soon, then likely somehow repair and fix it, and how it would take long time, but the buildings will once again stand proudly over downtown Manhattan, shiny and new. And then a 10:00am…. The absolutely unthinkable and improbable happened right in from of my eyes – the south tower of WTC pancaked down and collapsed all the way to the bottom, like a Jenga game tower falling apart when a bottom piece is pulled out from underneath it. A massive grey mushroom cloud of smoke and debris exploded after the collapse and rushed toward the place where I was standing. Everybody ran. North. Up to Canal Street, constantly looking back at every possible turn. I outran the cloud and stopped. I still couldn’t believe what just happened, it just wasn’t registering as a possibility, it didn’t compute. I continued going north and west – I needed to get to the other side of the river eventually to get home, so it was either a PATH subway midtown or a ferry, if either was running. When I got to Spring Street around NYU, it was another open view of the burning WTC, a single remaining tower now, with a lot of smoke turning the sky all black. The sunny day was no longer sunny, it as dark grey November sky everywhere now. There were some people walking past me like zombies, all covered in white dust, their faces as if under masks. It was all totally shocking and surreal, and most of all incomprehensible. It all made sense on a movie theater screen, but not in real life with, you in the main role. I was just waiting to snap out of it somehow. Cellular service was completely down. As I was looking at the WTC, the single remaining tower in smoke, the unimaginable happened again at 10:29am – the WTC north tower collapsed in a pancake pattern, floor onto a floor onto a floor, right in front of my eyes, seemingly in slow motion of shock and disbelief. This can’t be! It’s just impossible! I remember just continuing walking north and west, people in ash everywhere around, people talking about more planes hitting cities, Philadelphia and Washington and San Francisco under attack. I kept looking back as if expecting to see the towers still standing. I finally got to the 34th street, where ferries were running across the river to Hoboken. Passengers in shock, not many talking or saying anything, some covered in white ash. Like zombies. It’s either a dream or a Hollywood movie. Everybody was standing on the ferry and watching the burning downtown Manhattan, and no towers remaining at where they just stood a few hours ago. A total shock and disbelief and somehow helplessness and despair and rising anger. I walked down from Hoboken to Jersey City, and then walked out on the waterfront, watching Manhattan on fire. At around 5pm there was another explosion as one of the smaller towers collapsed in the WTC complex. I took some pictures with the camera throughout the day, evening and the next morning. Next morning it was just smoldering, the city skyline changed forever. It took days and weeks for me to get over the shock, processing information and news. The images of the second plane, and then both towers collapsing in front of my own eyes and not on TV kept haunting me. Every plane flying above my head gave me jitters for quite a while. Unable to return to work for days, the view of Manhattan right in front of me, the air filled with smoldering ash and god knows what else. I slowly assembled a collection of newspaper cutouts and clips with the images of September 11 and the following days, combined them with the photos I took myself that day, and put together into a scrap book album. Just for myself to look at. These are the images of the scrapbook.