From: Karen Date: Thu, Sep 20, 2001,
2:47pm Subject: Fwd: A Survivor's Account
of What Happened. and advice of what to
do if it happens again A FIRST HAND
ACCOUNT BY A SURVIVOR FROM THE TRADE
CENTER TRAGEDY WHO WORKED AT THE DELOITTE
OFFICE IN A BUILDING DAMAGED BY THE
EXPLOSION THAT IS CONNECTED TO THE TOWERS.
I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO PASS
THIS ALONG. A CLIENT OF OURS FORWARDED
THIS TO ME. --AARON
Hi, everyone. Just wanted to let you all
know that I am ok. My prayers go out to
the families of the thousands who are not.
I'm writing this mostly to make myself
feel better. Debra captured it best when
she said "my guess is that you saw too
much." I did. The following is my account
of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. CBS news
said that New Yorkers want "street justice.
Swift and ruthless." Damn right we do!
7:30am: I go to the office after walking
through the Trade Center and over the
catwalk to the Financial Center. Typical
8:30am-ish: I go to get coffee with my
friend Rob. We're over on the Trade Center
side of the building on the 8th floor.
Someone tells us that a bomb went off in
the Trade Center. We go to the windows and
look up at the massive hole and the flames.
Someone announces over the P.A. system
that nothing is happening to our building
and that we should stay inside. We head to
the bank of TV's to see what is happening
on the news. Rob goes back to his desk on
the 7th floor.
9:00am-ish: I decide to go back to my desk
and grab my briefcase and my computer. The
second plane hits, but I don't hear it at
all. Amazingly, I didn't hear either crash
from inside my building. A guy shows up on
our floor and tells us all to evacuate.
The two other guys in my group who were in
the office at the time, Larry and Ron, and
I head for the stairs and they are packed.
It takes approximately 20 minutes for us
to get out of the building. We head straight
for the Hudson (away from the Trade Center)
and make our first mistake.
We head south along the river instead of
north. We didn't factor wind direction
into the equation because the fires were
many floors up, and the smoke columns
appeared to go up and then south, missing
the south end of the island. I never
thought about running out of land. Once
we started going south, there was no way
to change direction and go north because
of the sea of people.
From a park on the river, I watch in
horror as the Trade Center towers burn.
People start jumping. It's horrible.
That's the word I've been using nonstop
since yesterday. Horrible. There's a few
images that are forever ingrained in my
mind. My guess is that you've seen the
pictures, so I won't go into detail.
If you've ever heard me talk about my dad,
you know how much faith, respect and awe
I have for engineers. I'd heard that the
Towers were designed to withstand the
impact of a 707. Having no idea what type
of planes were used, I figured that the
Towers could withstand the crashes. I
never thought they would come down.
All of a sudden, I hear the most sickening
sound I have ever heard. I'm frozen
staring at the Trade Center as the first
tower collapses. I will never forget the
image. Larry and Ron instantly start
running farther south. They assumed that
I was right behind them, but I was frozen
in my tracks. I hear them yelling for me,
and I finally get my feet to move.
We're trying to outrun the dust cloud, but
it caught up to us pretty quickly. We
hunkered down right against the railing by
the river. We start breathing through our
shirts as the cloud enveloped us. It got
pitch black, and it started snowing ash.
I can't describe the smell. It was
horrible. Absolutely horrible. We hear
the scream of two jets as we sit there
in the darkness. Everyone tenses up
(some people scream) because no one knows
if more hijacked planes are coming. I
thought they sounded like fighter jets
(they were), but I still tensed up.
At this point, Larry, Ron, and I start
calmly making a plan. I've been told many
times that I get calmer and more
deliberate as things get more stressful.
That's certainly what happened. We decide
to try to make it to the Staten Island
ferry. We can see that it's running, but
the problem is that the wind is blowing
more smoke and ash right towards the
ferry station. A day trader named Greg
over hears our planning session. He asked
to join up with us, and we took him into
our fold. He described (in too much detail)
what he saw as he made his way from the
other side of the Trade Center to where we
It's still pretty dark, so at one point
we were holding hands as we made our way
further south. I see a cop and ask him
where people should go. The poor guy
looked like he was 20 years old. He
almost started crying when he looked at me
and said "I don't know." We decide to stick
with the plan and keep heading south. We
hear the familiar sound of a tower
collapsing, and we take refuge against a
building with an awning. There were maybe
twenty of us huddled under the awning. A
man comes by with a screaming baby, and I
grab him and give him my place under the
awning. The second cloud hits and every-
thing goes black again.
The ash clouds lift enough for us to see
about 50 yards. We see a ferry coming, so
we decide to break for the ferry station.
I see another image that I will never
forget. There was a beautiful girl (face
of an angel with a body built for sin)
who, amidst the crowds of people who are
absolutely covered in ash, had not one
flake of ash on her. Seeing her perks our
spirits up a little.
We make it to the ferry station and wait
for the ferry to dock. The Coast Guard had
taken over operations, so they were running
the show. The ferry is packed with fire-
fighters and equipment from Staten Island.
I think the reality of the situation set
in for many of the firefighters when they
saw us. You've seen the news clips. That's
what we looked like. It was as if we had
been caught in a blizzard of ash. Ron
joked that I looked like what I will look
like twenty years from now (my head
As the gates come up, we start cheering
for the firefighters. Some of them started
crying as they walked past us. Others
looked scared. Still others had a thousand
yard stare, likely from dealing with previous
horrors. Once again, the image of those brave
firefighters will always be with me.
We finally make it onto the ferry and it
pulls away. Those Coast Guard guys put the
pedal to the metal and we were flying.
Looking back towards the city, the skyline
looked foreign. The Trade Center was just
gone. Smoke billowed from where they once
Once on Staten Island, we were kinda stuck.
Ron lives there, but his house is pretty
far away from the ferry station. The buses
weren't running, so we started walking. We
walked for quite some time and finally
stopped to rest at a gas station. We got
some water and sat down. A van pulled in to
get gas and the passenger took one look at
me and asked if I was ok. I was still
covered in ash and the look on my face was
probably some combination of rage, horror,
and a deep sadness. The guy tells me that
God must have put me on this earth for a
reason. I agree with him (although I wish
God had picked some less tragic way to show
it) and say thanks.
We finally make it to Ron's house and turn
on the TV. We watch all the footage, and
the reality and magnitude of what we went
through sinks in. We go out to the store to
buy some new clothes and a tooth brush and
some stuff for contact lenses. Concrete ash
does a number on contact lenses, and I'll
get to that more below.
The rest of the night is pretty much devoted
to decompression and catching up with loved
ones on the phone. I thank God for my family
and the friends I have. When I go to take a
shower, I look in the mirror and am startled
by the image that looks back at me. I take
a shower and look down at the huge gray mud-
pile that forms at my feet. I can once
again smell and taste the ash/dust.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001: The bridges
into and out of Staten Island open. Larry's
wife Jen drives over from Metuchen, NJ and
picks up Larry and me. Their young son Jacob
makes us all smile and forget about the
previous day for a moment. Larry and Jen
drop me off at the train station and wait
with me until the train comes.
Heading into the city, I look at the skyline
and see the billowing smoke from where the
Trade Center once stood. The guy sitting
next to me, a med student, sees the dust
still on my briefcase and asks if I was
"there." I tell him my story (pretty much
what I've written above) and notice that
I'm shaking by the end of it. It's then
that I decide to write this email. And I
think it is helping.
I get to Penn Station and I'm nervous.
So is everyone else. Cops are
everywhere, people are talking in low
tones, and everyone looks jumpy. I
take the subway home and stop to buy a
newspaper. Everyone is still speaking
in near whispers. It's eerie. I open
the paper and see some pictures of
people jumping, pictures of the wreckage,
and pictures of those who were trapped
just before the collapse. Tears come
to my eyes and I wipe them on my sleeve
as I walk home. Everyone on the street
is smoking. Everyone. It's like North
I walk past a firehouse and there is
a shrine already there. There are
flowers and candles and a big card
from an elementary school. I shake
the hands of the two fireman who are
standing in the garage doorway and
say thank you. They nod their heads
and I keep walking. I make it home,
check the 15 messages on my home
answering machine, and take a shower.
And that's pretty much it. As I
mentally debrief, I've come up
things that I wish I had done and
items I wish I had kept at my desk.
Here is that list:
Things to do:
1) At the first sign of trouble,
leave. The person on the P.A. is
making a judgment call and they
can be wrong. I wish I had left as
soon as I had seen the hole from
the first plane.
2) When you get outside, check the
wind. If possible, run upwind of
the situation. Even if you don't
think the wind will factor into
3) Grab your friends and stay with
them. A small pack can travel
efficiently, and you'll feel safer
Things to have at your desk: (Don't
laugh. And Elaine, don't make fun of
Chris for doing things like counting
the seats and windows to the exits
on a plane.)
1) If you wear contact lenses, keep a
pair of glasses handy. Ash and cement
dust get in your eyes and scratches
2) A facemask of some kind. I'm talking
about those filtering ones. They
block more stuff than a shirt and you
keep both hands free by having one.
3) A flashlight. There's dark, and
then there's black.
4) A small transistor radio. Once you
make it to safety, you don't know
what's happening, you aren't sure what
has happened, and it's comforting to
5) Safety goggles. I would have given
anything for these. One piece of comic
relief was Greg with his glasses
completely snowed over with ash and
I promise you that I will carry these
items with me in my briefcase for the
rest of my life. You might want to
consider doing so as well.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope
everyone is safe and well. Feel free
to share this email and/or my lists
with anyone who might want to read it.