On this anniversary, there are many people remembering where they were that terrible day. (I was in Court here in Pennsylvania, 85 miles or so from Ground Zero.)
I’d like to share this, written by my good friend John Finnegan, who lived near me but worked in lower Manhattan. This is the eyewitness account he wrote that next day for all his friends:
Well I am doing okay. Yesterday, I said to myself I was over tired, and I am low on personal and sick time. I struggled out of bed for my inhuman 4 am commute and got down to the bus station. I said hello to friends and fell asleep as we pulled away.
I woke up at various stops along the way once we hit Manhattan. 10-15 people got off the bus when they called the World Trade Center. I proceeded on about 5-10 blocks away and got off at Water and Wall street.
I was at my desk by 7 am, ate my bagel sandwich, checked my email, then began to prepare for my 9:30 meeting. At about 8:55 my friend called me, and told me a plane hit the World Trade Center. I assumed it was a Sesna or some sort of little plane. I told my friend I would go look out the window from my 48th floor building and call them back. About ten of us were watching the tower. The fire was nasty but I though to myself they can get people out of it in time. It was clear to me though that hundreds probably died from that impact.
I was watching, all of a sudden less then 200 yards away a HUGE blue and grey United plane ( I could read the entire words off the side of the plane, it was that close) flew right by our window. I remember shouting “Jesus, it’s flying low. What the hell are they doing?!” It looked like it was gonna fly through the city and then it performed an astonishing near 45 degree turn and plunged directly into the side of the WTC. It looked like something from a movie, and I immediately though of that building exploding scene from the Matrix.
People started screaming, “Get out get out, its a terrorist attack, there may be more!” I remember running to my desk, yelling to the people in my group to get out of the building … a second plane had hit.
The elevators were jammed. I decided to hit the stairs. It took me nearly 20 minutes to get to the bottom. I had to stop a few times to rest. My legs were on fire and I didn’t think they could support me.
At the bottom, the lobby was filled with people, some crying … but there was an incredible level of support. I sat down to rest, and someone offered me water … they had apparently bought a bag full to hand out to people. I said I was fine.
I got up eventually, and I went to the bank in my building and took out a couple hundred of dollars … thinking I didn’t know what would happen. The streets were filled with people, all moving north away from the area. I didn’t know what to do. I walked a couple blocks hoping to catch a bus heading back to Pennsylvania where we recently moved.
I bought two huge waters. It was getting hot out.
I got lucky, a lot luckier than a lot of people. Four blocks up I saw my bus company, and a got onto the bus. With me was just the bus driver.
The bus driver and I talked, his bus was under the North tower when the second plane hit. He helped the police block traffic so they could get in the emergency vehicles. He got out of dodge and took nearly an hour to get down to Wall Street.
He let me use his cell phone to call my wife. The lines were completely blocked. There was no way to get a call out. We moved down South Street with all the other traffic the wrong way, inching away from the area as hundreds of people moved down the street.
It was amazing. I watched them for nearly an hour. Most were in good spirits, some with a look of complete awe on their faces, some with a cold stare of disbelief, fear occasionally flashing upon their faces. People starting wearing things over their faces, t-shirts and masks. We heard an explosion, we heard people saying the entire tower collapsed. Minutes later, people started running. Dust rolled into the area … 15 blocks from the Twin Towers. More riders got on. I tried another telephone. I didn’t get through.
The bus driver talked to dispatch. He parked his van, and I discovered they had closed the city. I discovered the Pentagon had been attacked. Someone said they bombed a church up near the tower. I saw people covered in dust and grey cement. The police locked down the entire area. The bus driver’s wife got through to his cell phone. He asked his wife to call mine. I discovered that he had to leave his bus and move to a safer area on foot.
We saw too many bomb squad people coming through the area. Up ahead some heavy police activity was going on. We discovered the entire city was locked down. They suspended bus service from Pennsylvania for 7 hours. There wasn’t any way I was gonna get out of the city this way.
We left the bus. Two of the passengers said their company owned a hotel. They invited me to come with them. I wished them well but said I would figure something else out. I wasn’t gonna be able to walk 30 blocks uptown.
I was under the Manhattan bridge. I looked over towards Brooklyn. It was a long way. I headed north for awhile, and pushed through Chinatown. People were in little bands, lad by a manager or coworker. It was like I was on the Oregon trail. I bought another water, the other two were long gone. I got worried about looters. I wasn’t in the nicest neighborhood. I eventually got to the bridge.
People were crossing it in unbelievable numbers. Thousands. One of my best friends has an apartment in the sole nice corner of DUMBO (District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). I thought I should try to make it there. Never did I ever think I would shoot to get to Brooklyn for safety. The entire walk so far I thought, my friend Steve (whose apartment I was shooting for) works in the Borders bookstore below the North tower of the World Trade center.
I could be walking into a situation where he was dead and his girlfriend (one of my wife’s best friends) was nearly unconsolable. I thought it would be a good idea to be there for her, and get the hell out of this city.
My legs were killing me. I thought about another plane hitting the bridge as I crossed. Seemed like good odds. As I took breaks crossing the bridge, people would stop and say, “You okay, man?” Didn’t matter what ethnic group they were, didn’t matter what I was. Some guy offerred me a sandwich, someone offered me water. People seemed in good spirits. People gave a shit about each other for the first time I ever saw in New York. People were angry, people wanted a reckoning. Staring at the sky line, I kept thinking … where the hell is New York … the buildings are just gone!
I pressed on, and eventually 2-3 more miles later got to their door. I paused as I went to knock. I could barely stand and she came out to look at the enormous cloud billowing into the sky. I begged her to tell me Steve wasn’t at work today, Steve came out. His shift didn’t start until 1:30. They told me they’d been expecting me, where the hell else was I going to go?
I watched TV for four hours. Steve cooked us a good lunch. Four cats crawled all over me. I knocked her bras off the doorknob in the bathroom. We talked about what happened and made out guesses. They made me watch the first episode of Farscape because my wife hates it and hates to watch it. They had talked to my wife already, the bus drivers wife called her but it sounded like I was in the bus under the World Trade Center. We couldn’t call out, she called crying. Everything was ok. My dad called me a few minutes later, my brother got in touch later with my Mom. I was prepared to crash there for the night.
On a whim, I called a car service I knew and asked them if they would get me home to Pennsylvania and how much. “200 bucks,” they said, I said come get me.
As the driver and I pulled into my Park and Ride two hours later in Pennsylvania, I stared at all the cars in the parking lot. There were few if any empty spots. It was 9 PM. No one else who commuttes with me had gotten home. Hundreds of cars filled the parking lot. I was one of the lucky ones.
I could barely walk but I got home in the car 30 minutes later. I took it slow, figuring it would be my luck to plaster a deer or moose along the way home. Even today I can’t walk too well, I feel as if someone had tried to rip my legs off for about four hours.
I still pondered what occurred to me last night as I climbed into my car to go home I remembered around six in the morning the driver calling out “World Trade Center”. I remember 10-15 people getting off…
When I lived in Brooklyn, we would often go to the roof of our building in DUMBO, about a block from the East River, and watch the fireworks burst around the towers on holidays. I even did some temp work in the towers for a while. It’s still hard to realize that they are not there.