Life is precious. Everybody knows that; everybody should know that. I
had known this for a long time but never really took it to heart. Until today…
It was an ordinary workday for me. I was at work at the usual time, around
8 a.m., at the 68th floor of the World Trade Center 2 (WTC2) building
in New York City. I am a web developer/programmer working as a consultant for a
financial firm. I started my day as usual, checking emails and lining up a list
of tasks. It was going to be a slow day for me; or so I thought.
At around 8:45 my expectations for what the day had in store for me suddenly
changed. A loud explosion was heard outside our building. It sounded like a bomb
went off. I went about my business unmindful of the event but some co-workers had
already gone to look out the windows to see what had happened. Presumably, the explosion
caused a huge hole in the upper levels of World Trade Center 1 (WTC1). It was on
fire, and paper and all kinds of debris started to fill the air around it. Moments
later I was shocked to witness at least three people jumping out of the damaged
area, plunging to their death. That started a bit of a panic in me but I tried to
keep it to myself as much as possible. We figured out later that an airplane had
crashed into the building. At this point I thought it was a small plane and that
it was an accident. We heard the sirens of police and firemen arriving shortly.
My boss was very cool and calm. He told us that we were free to leave
if we wanted to but he was going to stay. An announcement over our building’s public
address system reassured me that we were safe. The announcement confirmed that an
airplane had crashed into WTC1 but we were unaffected and that WTC2 is secure. It
continued to say that we could calmly get out of the building if we wanted to, or
we could stay. I decided to stick around, feeling reassured, trusting in my boss’s
good judgment and the announcement I just heard.
A few minutes later, another explosion occurred. This time I felt it
was a direct hit on our building . I felt the floor shake like
there was an earthquake. I was terrified. I thought anytime the floor under me would
collapse and open and “swallow” me in an instant. I thought the end for me was near.
This time I had no time to think but had to act on instinct --- survival instinct.
It only took a few seconds for me to grab my knapsack and run towards the door.
When I got out, I saw that there was already fire and smoke on the opposite end
of our office, causing me to be more alarmed. I thought that this time the explosion
happened not far from our office. I hurried out and followed another person heading
towards the stairs. We were both in panic and raced down the stairs as fast as we
At this point so many things were going on in my mind. I was praying
for mercy and enlightenment that I may keep my presence of mind. I was anticipating
death. I was imagining how I would experience it --- would it be quick and painless,
or slow and agonizing? I was thinking of my wife and baby, that I can’t die now,
if only for their sake. I realized later that my survival instinct was really focused
on protecting myself from harm partly by nature of self-preservation, but beyond
that, I had to get through this ordeal because of my loved ones.
The rush down the stairs was very exhausting. Every floor that I “conquered”
wore me down and I thought that I wouldn’t make it out at that pace because I thought
there were just too many steps and I had too little time and energy. It didn’t take
long before I felt the effects of physical and emotional stress --- my knees were
shaking and I could feel my heart beating faster than ever. Fortunately, by the
time I got to (maybe) the 52nd floor, the stairway was already filled
with other people lined up in orderly fashion much like in a fire drill. Everybody
was calm and cooperative, looking out for each other. This gave me a chance to catch
my breath and regain my composure.
The flight down the stairs with the rest of the people was like a double-edged
sword for me. On one hand it helped me stay calm knowing I was going through this
experience together with a lot of people. On the other hand, because there were
many of us, I felt we were moving too slowly and I couldn’t help but feel scared
at the thought that the longer it took for us to get out, the higher the risk we
were in. I think it took us half an hour to get out of the building; I felt that
during those thirty minutes, I was going through a demo version of hell --- it felt
like an eternity of tension and uncertainty.
When we finally got out of the building, the police and rescue teams
instructed us not to look up and to keep moving. At that point I had no intention
of looking up. I’ve had my share of that disaster and all I wanted to do was to
get as far away from it as possible. I stayed with my co-workers wary of the fact
that I didn’t really know my way around New York (I live in Pennsylvania). We headed
towards the company’s other branch a few blocks away. That location was to serve
as an emergency response center for the employees.
After about ten minutes of walking, we were near the location and took
some time to stop, feeling we were now at a safe distance from harm. Now we decided
to look back and inspect the damage to the two buildings. I couldn’t believe what
happened next. Within about five seconds we saw WTC2 going down right before our
eyes! It went down like an implosion! I was in disbelief. Had it taken us longer
in the building, we wouldn’t have made it out alive! Sadly, a lot of other people
didn’t make it; especially some who were just trying to help get us out safely.
We made it to the company’s emergency response center and had a chance
to rest and reorganize. This also gave us time to call our families to tell them
of our situation. We also tried calling the co-workers who weren't with us to see
if they were okay.
The next problem was getting home. There was no way to get in or out
of New York at that time. To make a long story short I spent the whole day with
a friend, walking up and down Manhattan, trying to find a way out of New York. I
figured I walked at least five miles today. At around 4:30 the path trains to New
Jersey opened up and we were lucky to be there when it did. We got on a train to
Trenton and after that connected to another one scheduled for Philadelphia. My wife
picked me up at the station and we got home safe and sound at around 8:45, twelve
hours after my surreal adventure began.
I am happy to be alive. I am thankful for this second chance at life.
It’s my second birthday. I know this experience has given me new perspective on
what is important to me – my family above all else. I know this has taught me a
lesson to value life even more and I hope I never forget it. I hope you do too.