9/11 Will Never Be Forgotten

In 2001 I was working for Salomon Smith Barney at the 7 World Trade Center. I had a very important meeting that day. Everything was fine until I got stuck on a train between Canal Street & Chambers Street Stations. The train was standing still for 30 min. I remember sweating bullets looking at my watch.

When the train finally made it to Chambers, I realized that things were quite unusual. The station was filled with police & FBI officers and people in distress pouring inside the station. I didn’t pay much attention to it because living in NY for a while, one gets used to all kinds of shenanigans – all I knew – I was late for the meeting until I heard the big bang as I was getting outside. It was the second plane hitting the South Tower.

I felt like I was suddenly teleported to a terrifying disaster movie set, except it was happening for real. The towers were on fire, people in suits with briefcases were running towards uptown. FBI and police officers were not even trying to clear the street – they were just standing there looking disoriented surrounded by a running mob.

Photo: Architecture Design

I was standing there, on the corner of Church & Park St. which was about 600 feet away from the North Tower staring in awe at the burning buildings. Around 9:40, people started jumping out of windows to their deaths to escape the conflagration and the smoke. It was so terrifying…

We all prayed that the firefighters would put down the flames and everything would get back to normal until, suddenly, at 10 am, the South Tower disintegrated in front of our eyes. The cell phones went dead and the crowd started running for their lives. It was pure madness fueled by fear of death…

After about 20 min or so, the North Tower collapsed. I was right there – 600 feet away. I remember it vividly. Everything was happening like in a slow-mo – a tidal wave of dust and debris started moving towards me extremely fast. There was no way I would outrun it… I suddenly remembered my army drills. So, I grabbed a nearby dude that was standing there frozen and we both ran to the side street to avoid the impact. It worked… I was looking at the intersection when the shock wave hit it. The ferocity of the wave was mind-boggling – many people were simply swept off their feet.

I was located three blocks from Ground Zero

The guy that I pulled with me had a nervous breakdown mumbling, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” like a broken record. I looked at him and said, “Shut up. You’re making me nervous.” It didn’t help. So, I slapped him on the face to put him back into his senses. He looked at me completely disoriented and said, “Thank you. I think I got to go.” Pressed his briefcase to his chest with both hands as if it were his child and slowly started walking away. His legs were wobbly…

388 Greenwich Street

Because I had military training in many disciplines I decided to join volunteers. It was chaos. Nobody knew what was going on. One policeman told me that the emergency headquarters was located in a little park by the Citigroup building at 388 Greenwich St. So, I walked there to see if they were looking for extra help and explained that I did have military training when it comes to rescue missions. They asked me a few questions and pointed towards a small group of people hanging on the corner. “If we need you, we’ll let you know,” said an FBI agent.

So, there were 17 of us waiting for the orders. It was about 11 am. An hour went by. Our group was getting larger and larger. An officer came and asked us to form a line and told us that they will be calling us soon. By 11:30 the line grew to a few hundred people.

I was one of the first people who saw what was left. As we were progressing inside the rubble things we couldn’t believe our eyes…

The area around the World Trade Center was a scene of utter devastation. Smoke and dust hung in the air. Countless cars, trucks, and emergency vehicles were destroyed.

Very little remained of the Twin Towers’ elegant facades, which architect Minoru Yamasaki has designed with narrow window openings and soaring archwork. Two 110-story soaring towers were reduced to a contorted mass of smoking metal. Welders spent months cutting the steel apart so that it could be carted away.

Photo: IMDB

We didn’t spend much time at the scene – agents got an order to pull us back as the reinforcements were steppin’ in.

As the North Tower collapsed, heavy debris hit 7 World Trade Center – the building where my office was located, damaging the south face of the building and started fires that continued to burn throughout the afternoon. It collapsed at 5:20 pm.

Photo: Popular Mechanics

My team was working from home for three weeks until Salomon Smith Barney relocated our department to 2 New York Plaza located at 125 Broad St next to New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Every day I was walking by Ground Zero witnessing how our fellow New Yorkers rebuilt the entire neighborhood from scratch.

It’s been 20 years since it happened but I’m still avoiding this area.

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