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feel as though I am a ghost. By Lolita Jackson
I have survived two terrorist attacks on my workplace without a scratch.
As I write this,
less than a week after the destruction of the World Trade Center, I realize
how lucky I am to be alive. The first time this happened, when terrorist
bombs exploded in the basement of the building in 1993, I was young and
still felt somewhat immortal. I was fearless going down the darkened stairwells
and viscerally felt that if I simply walked down the stairs I would be
fine. We were out of the building for one month, but were able to reoccupy
it mostly without incident.
This was an entirely
I arrived at
work at 8:20 on September 11 in order to attend an 8:30 staff meeting
on the 70th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. During
the meeting, each person was stating what they were currently working
on, and I was waiting for my turn and absentmindedly staring out of the
window when I heard the first crash and saw papers, debris, and flames
shooting out of the other building. I and the people who were also in
the meetingmany of whom were also veterans of the 1993 bombingimmediately
got up, grabbed our purses and other belongings, and made our way to the
middle of the floor. People were not panicking because most of us felt
that a plane hit the first tower by accident. Once we had done a headcount,
we began immediately descending the stairs.
As we were going
down the stairs we were told to take the elevators from 59 to 44. The
44th floor is a skylobby, and there were several hundred people there
when we arrived. I was on that floor when the second plane hit my building.
The building swayed about two feet, then righted itself. (The building
doesdidthat normally, even in a windstorm, though obviously not as severely.)
stopped screaming and had picked up their shoesmany people were knocked
out of them by the impactwe calmly began descending the stairs. Yes,
people were crying, but my group was apparently in no imminent danger,
so we just moved down as quickly as possible. I even made a few jokes
on the way to lighten the mood: I told the group to begin counting down
floors as though it were New Years Evewhich we actually did.
During the first
incident in 1993, it was much more frightening to descend the stairs,
since the smoke was billowing up and the stairs were pitch black. It took
almost three hours to get down that time. This time, the first plane hit
at 8:48, I exited the building at 9:25, and my building collapsed at 10:00.
If I had not left immediately, I likely would have perished. Ironically,
the first terrorist attempt to destroy the building in 1993which made
us know that the important thing was to get out as quickly as possiblesaved
many, many lives.
I actually was
able to catch one of the last subways before they shut down the system,
so I was at home by 10:45. It was when I was on the crosstown bus after
exiting the subway that I heard that the towers had fallen. People were
discussing the attack and how they felt about it, and one of my fellow
passengers shouted out, The other one just fell! I said, What do you
mean, other one? She then told me that both towers had fallen within
the past half hour.
That is when
it hit me: everyone who was helping us to get out was dead. Hundreds of
policemen and firemen. My secondary reaction was for the people in the
towers who were told that everything was OK and to go back up to their
offices, or who were elderly or severely overweight and could not exit
quickly. My last reaction is one of personal loss. I worked in the World
Trade Center for 10 years and spent far more time there than anywhere
else, so I feel like someone has blown up my sense of identity. I am forever
In my firm, out
of 3,500 employees only 10 didnt make it out. Unfortunately, I knew two
of them. One refused to leave when we were told to evacuate, stating that
the Trade Center complex was composed of the strongest buildings in the
world. The other was one of my closest colleagues at work. We were both
on 59 together when he decided to find an empty office to call his wife.
I kept going and went down the elevator. He got in an elevator about five
minutes later, at exactly the time of the second planes impact. It is
believed that the elevator cables snapped. Split-second decisions determined
whether you lived or died.
I cannot believe
I have escaped this horror twice without a scratch. God has left me here
for a purpose, to complete the work I have started, and that is a humbling
idea to contemplate. After endlessly watching the television replay of
the second plane crash into my building and seeing the building fall only
50 minutes later, I feel as though I am a ghost. Looking at that horrific
footage, I realize that I should have died. I am experiencing the feeling
that I was somehow almost protected from physical harmthat had any circumstances
been different, such as my tower getting hit first, or had I not evacuated
immediately, I wouldnt be here right now. There is a Bruce Willis movie,
Indestructible, in which he is the only survivor of a horrific
train accident. I feel like his character.
I have many friends
who witnessed firsthand the desperate people jumping to their deaths,
and that searing memory is one they will never forget. I simply cannot
fathom having to make the choice of burning to death or jumping almost
100 floors. I am scarred, New York is traumatized, and the world is in
mourning with us.
EAS89 is an assistant vice president with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
& Co. in New York. She extends her thanks to all the members of the
Penn familyclassmates and other alums, administrators and staff˝who sent
me their kind thoughts and wishes and offers this advice: Enjoy your
friends, loved ones, and your life in general. Do not wait to have memories,
memories are created now.
only thing I can do is sit here and type it out.
By Beth Scanlon
At West 4th Street this morning, they announced that our train would
be delayed because of a fire at the World Trade Center. The E would be
running over the F line. People groaned. I figured it was just a fire
on the tracks, which happens all the time, and kept reading my book. Came
out of the subway at about 9:20 a.m., late as usual, and there were huge
gatherings of people across the street, some with cameras. I thought maybe
they were shooting a movie. Did I want to be a New York gaper? But there
were so many people, I decided to cross. I looked south, in the direction
everyone else was looking. I saw the World Trade Center with black smoke
billowing out and it took a minute to realize there was a gaping hole
in the North Tower. And then I noticed just behind it the second tower
had a huge hole lower down. I leaned in and listened as some guy explained
that terrorists had hijacked two planes and suicide-bombed the towers.
I couldnt believe this was happening. I tried to call my dad on my cell
phone to let him know I was OK. I tried calling Alex and Jeff to make
sure they were OK. I racked my brain trying to think if I knew anyone
who worked down there. I was trying to imagine what it must have been
like when the World Trade Center was bombed years ago. Before I lived
in New York. And how when I took classes there I always thought the tight
security was kind of ridiculous. That no one would ever do that again.
Who expected planes? I watched for a few minutes, and then I walked uptown
I stumbled to
the building and heard some guy talking on his cell phone about how he
wasnt in the WTC, how he had just gotten out before it happened. Upstairs,
the girls already had the radio playing. They told me to call my dad.
I was in a sleepwalk. Were there people on the planes that were hijacked?
How many floors were taken out? How many people had already died? I reassured
my father over the phone and checked my e-mail. Maureen wanted to know
if I was OK, so I called her and told her I was all right. She was upset,
she was watching it on the news. I told her I saw it with my own eyes.
I told her Id call her back.
We were panicked
in the office. Was another attack going to happen? My father informed
me that they bombed the heliport at the Pentagon. This was far-reaching
and insane. We werent sure what to do with ourselves, sitting in this
office on 17th Street. We heard that the South Tower had collapsed. I
was in disbelief. I had to go outside and see it with my own eyes. We
decided to all go out together. So we migrated to Sixth Avenue, and as
we walked down 17th, my ears perked up. I heard a plane flying overhead.
I asked, Is that a plane? We all looked at each other in terror and
then at the sky. Why were there still planes in the sky? How is it that
in a moment, a sound that we never even register in this busy, loud city,
a sound that is peaceful and reminds me of summer days outside, had suddenly
become a sign of danger?
On Sixth Avenue,
thousands lined the sidewalk, strangers talking to strangers, telling
what they saw. The other tower was still billowing with smoke and I could
see the red flames licking the side of the building. Laura and Aimee decided
to go back in, they didnt feel safe outside. I needed to stay outside.
As every siren passed, I wanted to be a nurse again. I wanted to jump
into an ambulance and help people. Leah said she wanted to go back in.
She said she didnt feel safe. She was afraid riots would begin. I was
afraid for the Arabs in the city. Like the one standing next to us who
worked at the parking lot on the corner. Will people be afraid of every
Arab they see?
People in business
attire and chef uniforms were walking up Sixth Avenue from downtown. Their
faces were tear-stained; some were sobbing. People were lining up at the
pay phones to try and call their loved ones and tell them they were OK.
Cell-phone service suddenly no longer existed. Leah was tugging at me,
Lets go. I looked south one more time and as I turned my head from
the towers, a roar came over the crowd, a loud gasp, and I looked up to
see the second tower crumbling. It just fell. The glass from the windows
flew out and sparkled in the sun. How could something so ugly, death and
destruction, also strike me as so beautiful? I was disgusted by my own
emotions. I had just seen a building cease to exist. In an instant it
was there and the next moment, it was no longer. It was like every piece
of footage I have ever seen in the movies. It was obscured by smoke and
when it cleared there was nothing,
A group of Hasidic
Jews had gathered behind us on the sidewalk. One cried, They destroyed
the most beautiful building in New York, in a garbled sob. They hugged
and retreated from the sidewalk. During the collapse, Leah grabbed my
hand and clamped it so tight, she was yelling, I want to go, I need to
get out of here, and I couldnt move, couldnt be tugged by her strong
pull. Leah went back, and I just stood there.
There were sirens
everywhere, people were huddling around service elevators to listen to
the radio, to hear the next update. I stumbled down the sidewalk, consciously
amazed that my legs were still working. Back at the office, I talked to
my dad again and he asked me how close we were to the WTC. I assured him
we were at least 30 blocks away. He told me how they couldnt call into
New York, the lines were all busy. He was choked up, and I still cannot
begin to have feelings about what happened. I am not scared, I am not
sad, I am nothing.
I reached my
mother at school. She was crying hysterically on the phone, thanking God
I was alive, and telling me to be careful, that this is war, to go home.
But we cant go home. Manhattan has been completely shut down, there are
no subways, no cars, no trains. I called my brother, and he described
what is going on on TV. How they are showing the remains of the buildings,
and I cannot see it, we have only the radio and it is enough. They are
describing the ash falling on the people in southern Manhattan. They are
describing the mayhem in Washington. The other plane that went down in
Pennsylvania. Is it related? All airports have been shut down and flights
are being diverted to Canada. We have turned the radio down to talk on
the phone, and I fell out of touch with the world. Laura is working through
this whole thing and Aimee is arranging to walk home over one of the bridges.
The only thing I can do is sit here and type it out as I experience it.
Clinically document the events of this morning. I am chilled and feel
sick to my stomach. There are reports that people are migrating on foot
over every bridge, getting off the island, and were all trying to figure
out how were getting home, if were going home.
C99 lives in Brooklyn and is a publicist at Carol Fass Publicity in Manhattan.
You can e-mail her at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
was dumbstruck by the enormity of what I was seeing.
By Barry Miles Belgorod
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, seemed like a normal morning, seeing
patients in my ophthalmology office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
As long as I live, I will never forget my secretary informing me that
an airplane had struck one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
That moment had
an exceptional impact on me, as my four- and six-year-old sons and I had
been studying skyscrapers for the past several months. It had become their
passion. They were so proud of our Twin Towers. They would share their
elation on the occasional clear Sunday evening when we could see them
atop the Manhattan skyline as we drove home from the country. We had studied
the incident in 1945 when a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State
Building on a foggy Saturday morning, killing 13. I had an instant sense
of d╚jř vu.
I saw the second
plane hit on the television set in the lobby of my office building, and
my heart sank as any doubts about this being a terrorist attack went up
in the smoke I was watching. My thoughts turned to those victims in and
above the crash sites and to those who might have perished inside the
airplanes. I wanted to help, to do anything to relieve the suffering,
but both of my hospitals, Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat and New York-Presbyterian,
as well as St. Vincents downtown, where I also volunteered, all had enough
physicians and nurses waiting. I was referred to a triage center at Chelsea
Piers where medical volunteers could go to see if they were needed.
One of my residents,
Dr. Charles Mango, from New York-Presbyterian, had managed to get near
the disaster site, and from him I learned that ocular foreign bodies and
irritations were one of the two most common injuries (respiratory problems
being the other). Most of what he was able to do on-site was ocular irrigation,
as there was no slit-lamp biomicroscope available.
I now knew what
needed to be done. I had to get a slit lamp downtown to treat the rescuers
and victims with eye problems on-site. I called the assistant administrator
at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Craig Ugoretz, who found
the one slit lamp that was not bolted to a floor-mounted stand. When I
arrived at the hospital the next day, the slit lamp was in the lobby waiting
for me at the security desk. In the hospital pharmacy, I met a police
surgeon, Dr. Richard Leinhardt, who offered to take me downtown.
The FDR Drive
was closed to all but emergency vehicles. We passed through multiple roadblocks
and checkpoints, some manned by the NYPD, some by state troopers, and
some by military personnel. My beloved city had been transformed into
an armed camp. In the otherwise cloudless blue sky, a huge gray pillar
of smoke rose from lower Manhattan, pushed toward Brooklyn by the wind.
On our way, it
was suggested we stop at One Police Plaza to treat the eyes of injured
police officers. Many officers had eye injuries that had not responded
to irrigation the day before. They just ignored their injuries and kept
working. I was given a conference room down the hall from the Command
and Control Center to set up as an eye-treatment facility. After a few
minutes, there was a long line of police officers with inflamed eyes at
the door. They were often so debris-laden that their uniforms appeared
more khaki than blue from the concrete dust and ash. On the first day
alone, I had the honor of caring for the eyes of probably more than 100
of these heroes. I eventually lost count. Each one just wanted to be treated
expeditiously so that they could immediately return to ground zero.
When the Towers
collapsed, there were enormous quantities of pulverized concrete, wisps
of fiberglass, and asbestos dust (the buildings may not have been
absolutely asbestos free) and splinters of probable window glass. Many
of the injured had chemical keratoconjunctivitis from the toxic effects
of the debris and acrid smoke from the fires that raged in the rubble.
There were many eyelid foreign bodies.
Having a slit
lamp made all the difference in treating these patients definitively.
Large foreign bodies were easily removed with cotton-tipped applicators
and irrigation. Small foreign bodies such as embedded glass chips often
had to be removed with forceps. Fiberglass embedded in the tarsal conjunctiva
created papillary conjunctivitis and the classic ultra-fine ice-skating
track corneal abrasions, often without any apparent foreign bodies to
be seen. Under high magnification and viewed tangentially, one could usually
see the offending fiberglass. It was tricky to remove the ultra-fine fiberglass
splinters, even with jewelers forceps. It was like trying to remove a
straight pin with a monkey wrench.
During the night,
after the steady flow of injured officers slowed to a trickle and stopped,
I went home for a few hours to check on my family, clean up, and get a
nap to prepare for the next day. There were few people outside on the
streets. Although it was late by then, one is accustomed to seeing some
people on the streets of New York at any hour. The wind direction had
shifted. Smoke from the disaster site was now blowing north, up the avenues,
to the Upper East Side. It was like walking in an acrid fog.
The boys were
sleeping soundly in my bed, waiting for Daddy to come home. I looked out
my bedroom window. The wind must have changed direction again, as now
it was the distant horizon that was blanketed by smoke. The sky above,
however, was so paradoxically clear that one could see entire constellations
that had been absent from the New York skies for as long as I could remember.
It all looked too serene considering what was going on downtown.
It wasnt until
the second day, during a break, that I opened the blinds to discover that
my improvised emergency room at One Police Plaza faced out over the devastation.
On the evening
of September 20 I got a closer look, when I was escorted to the site by
Sergeant Giuzio of the Office of the Chief of Police. He had been off-duty
when the call went out that an airplane had hit Tower 1 and had raced
to the scene. He had been there when the Twin Towers collapsed. From our
parking space on the West Side Highway, we could see the still-billowing
smoke illuminated by the floodlights at the site. The fires were still
burning on Day Nine.
We walked through
several checkpoints to an NYPD staging area, where I was outfitted with
yellow boots, a rain ponchoit was raining by thenand hard hat, and a
respirator to filter out smoke, asbestos, and other particles. Without
the familiar landmarks of the Twin Towers, I was completely disoriented.
As we got closer, the floodlights gradually got brighter and activity
increased. Armies of construction workers moved purposefully in every
direction. Flatbed trucks and dump trucks were being turned around 180
degrees with seeming ease by their drivers. I could see cranes in the
distance that were over 10 stories tall pulling and picking at piles of
rubble and construction vehicles equipped with pincers the size of a small
car, which I was told could cut through a steel girder like scissors through
We were standing
adjacent to ground zero, on West Street between Building 6 and the World
Financial Center. Large chunks of stone fa┴ade had been torn away from
the upper floors of the north building of the Financial Center. A multi-story
mass of steel girders from one of the Towers had fallen on the glass archway
that connects the two buildings of the World Financial Center.
The fa┴ade of
Building 6 was largely gone. The remains of Tower 1 were a few vertical
strips of fa┴ade and an enormous pile of rubble, being worked upon by
construction workers. The scale of the devastation made them look like
ants on an anthill. Despite being dwarfed by the rubble, they were clearly
making progress. Fire engines pumped water on wreckage smoking from fires
yet burning deep within. I was dumbstruck by the enormity of what I was
We passed buildings
that looked as if they had been spray-painted gray. The only windows you
could see into were the ones that had been broken by flying debris. After
emerging from under scaffolding, we reached the remains of the 72-story
Building 7 on Vesey Street, now a 10-story pile of rubble being peeled
away by cranes from the top and bulldozers from the bottom. Fires were
still burning inside the rubble, but it had been evacuated in time.
At Vesey and
Church streets, there was an emergency medical tent staffed by paramedics
from Boston. We were invited in to listen to President Bushs address
to Congress. Fire fighters and other rescue workers filtered in to join
us. All present were silent. The Presidents spectacularly worded message
was all the more potent, being received at the prime site of this unconscionable
attack on America. It was an honor to share this moment with heroic Americans
attempting to extract some good from such enormous evil.
After the address,
we walked on. As we approached Liberty Street, we saw a large group of
rescue workers gathered under a gasoline-powered floodlight. All were
looking anxiously over the edge of a precipice created when a several-story
piece of Tower fa┴ade curled into a cylinder and impaled itself into the
ground during one of the collapses. I could clearly see a filing cabinetit
looked incredibly intactinside the twisted subterranean wreckage. As
a paramedic set up IV bags and other supplies at the edge, I was told
that one worker thought he had seen a pipe move spontaneously. All had
one thought: Might there still be someone alive inside? Dogs were taken
down into the pit to sniff for survivors. The rescuers waited. I said
a silent prayer. The expectation was palpable, but our hopes for another
survivor didnt materialize. The crowd dispersed.
I asked the sergeant
when he was to finish his days tour of duty. He said, Two hours ago.
I thanked him for taking four hours out of his day to take me there. I
removed my protective gear and went home to kiss my sons in their sleep.
What kind of world have I brought them into? How can they still have childhoods
filled with innocence and security? We will only know in retrospect. I
hope and pray that I will never have to serve my fellow Americans in another
such man-made disaster ever again. I want to believe that the civilized
world has learned a dreadful lesson from this tragedy, and that the world
community will never permit it to be repeated.
Belgorod M77 is an ophthalmologist in New York.
Previous issue's column
| Nov/Dec Contents | Gazette
Copyright 2001 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 11/1/01
feel as though I am a ghost. By Lolita Jackson
only thing I can do is sit here and type it out.
By Beth Scanlon
dumbstruck by the enormity of what I was seeing.
By Barry Miles Belgorod
by Caren Lissner C93, editor of the Hudson Reporter newspaper
group in North Jersey.