My commute to work at the time was to take the train to Newark and then change to the Path train to the World Trade Center. From there, I walked to the far end of Wall Street, to the last building before the FDR Highway and the East River. On the morning of 9-11, I had exited the the World Trade Center about a half hour before the first jet hit.
In the office, I found out about the attack from a panicky phone call from my wife who was watching the news at home. We did not have a T.V. in our office; so initially, we did not have any idea of the magnitude of what had happened. But someone had a radio and everyone was calling or being called by wives or friends. From my window, I saw millions of pieces of paper falling from the sky, as if from a ticker tape parade. And from another window, I could see the smoke churning from the tops of the towers. After the buildings collapsed, concrete dust started falling from the sky, as if from a snow storm.
With the WTC gone and not certain about public transportation, I assumed that I was going to have to spend the night in the office. So I walked around the corner to a drug store on Water Street, hoping to buy a bar of soap, a toothbrush, etc. I felt the concrete dust in my lungs as I breathed. People were rushing down Wall Street as fast as they could, away from the towers. Here and there, people were shouting, shaking, or otherwise looking traumatized. The hair and clothes of some were completely covered in concrete dust. Most were simply hurrying as fast as they could, to the subways, the ferries, to the Brooklyn Bridge, or to an avenue away from the dust cloud.
Back in the office, an announcement was made that by order of the New York City Police Department, we were to evacuate the building and to walk uptown along Water Street. I feared getting trapped in a crush of people in either the subway or the street. My thoughts were that I had to avoid all risks and to look out for my own safety, for the sake of my wife and children, who depend on me. The building is next to Pier 11, and so I headed for the ferry. There were no lines, no crush of people, and I was able to get on a ferry immediately. It left as soon as it was full, which was very quickly. It brought us to Atlantic Highlands, on the New Jersey side, which is not far from where I live. The wife of one of my colleagues that was also on the ferry met us there, and they gave me a lift home.
I remember every detail from that day and the weeks afterwards—the phone calls to make sure that others are were O.K., the phone call that afternoon to the pregnant wife of a friend who didn’t make it, of a lucky friend worked on one of the upper floors but had taken the day off to go fishing, of the numerous photos posted all over NY and NJ of the names and photos of the missing—and knowing that they were all dead, of lower Manhattan being sealed off to the public, of the fire burning for months afterwards, and of the funerals and memorial services.
I knew several people who died in the towers and several who escaped, as did my wife. I have two cousins who are NYC policemen who worked the site for months afterwards, on body recovery, and I know another policeman who worked morgue duty, sorting out body parts. I have heard all of their stories. Ultimately, there is nothing that I, you, or anyone else can say. It is beyond human words.