Note from Janice: As most of our readers probably know by now, copacetic staffer and one of my dearest friends, Andrew Grant works in New York. The following is his account of that day.
Luckily, I was late setting off for work --- thanks to a friend --- which meant I had to postpone my early chiropractor appointment until the evening (meaning I wouldn't have to walk back at about 8:45 a.m. from John Street, past Century 21 and between the 2 World Trade Center towers, to my office in 2 World Financial Center (2 WFC)) and so I went straight to work, getting there at around 8:35. It was a gorgeous day, the sky all but cloudless. I think I must have been on the phone when the first aeroplane hit, as I don't recall feeling or hearing anything. I couldn't see anything of it, as my window faces west, over towards New Jersey. Calls came in asking for colleagues, saying they'd seen the plane crash on television. A colleague phoned in saying she'd seen the crash. An announcement came over the loudspeaker system: "There has been an incident at the World Trade Center, it has nothing to do with this building, please remain calm". I felt the second impact alright, though. Another colleague, Al, who had gone down in the lift to see what all the fuss was about, re-appeared, saying "Oh my God, Andrew, I saw it hit the building, this huge passenger jet". We were then evacuated, our department the last off the 33rd floor. Already in the stairwell the realisation was there that something was gravely amiss. Everybody seemed tense, though calm.
The emergency exit at the bottom was apparently closed; those in front turned about face and hollered for us to go up one floor. The thought that we might be trapped in the building was in the back of my mind, not yet fully formed. I left it there. A minute later, we turned about-face again and were able to exit the East-facing emergency door. [The descent took perhaps 10 minutes, tops, and was orderly and not particularly busy - later in the week it became apparent that in a building on fire with 110 floors, and well over 10,000 people, this would have been an altogether different proposition]. Looking skywards --- it was impossible not to --- I saw flames emitting from the top floors of both towers, with a dense dark smoke pluming out. Even at this stage, the natural 'minimise' tendency of my brain told me "it's a fire, they'll be able to put it out, that will be it. Some people will die, but only those few who can't get out fast enough". Seeing a body, alive, fall from what must have been at least 80 storeys up, tumbling --- slowly, it almost seemed --- through the air, brought a further stage of realisation, but I was still able to minimise thinking about it. The numbness was already there. However, I had to look away as I saw the second body fall, hearing the loud impact of death, as I had with the first.
Staff of the 2 WFC ushered us back into the building and we walked out to the west side, people milling about everywhere. The employees of my company were to gather at the volleyball pitch, by the (world's most expensive) marina. There weren't many of us there, certainly not the 400 employees that should have been. Many will have arrived late to work, some will have gone straight home, I reasoned to myself. There was some dissent as to the wisdom of our selected meeting place. The flaming towers did seem close; some seemed worried about being targets for further attacks. Tears flowed, as we decided to simply walk north, up the west side of the city. I learned that one of our employee's wives worked on the 104th floor of the South tower. Walking behind him, I loudly reasoned to Al that if you were in that tower you would see the fire in 1 World Trade Center, and certainly get out of there pretty sharpish. [I didn't, for a second, doubt my logic, though I later found out that it took up to 45 minutes to evacuate each tower. And the second aeroplane hit a good deal lower than the first.] "You'd better be right", he turned around and said to me.
Around this point, our Head of Administrative Services mentions to me (as an employee of Human Resources) that he has details of a counselling service, as people are going to be really shaken up by this. "OK, good, thanks", I say, "I'll come round to your office tomorrow morning and pick it up, then we can e-mail it out to everyone". The fires will be out and we'd be back at work by tomorrow, I figured.
Walking briskly, but without panic, along the Hudson River on the west of Manhattan island, I said to Al "If anything else goes off, I'm jumping straight into the water". "They" (whoever "they" might turn out to be --- "It's got to be the Palestinians, Andrew, they're pissed [off] about us supporting Israel") could strike again if they wanted --- my brain was fixed into Darwinist mode. And the murky Hudson seemed a pretty attractive potential escape route at that time. The reason for the concern was the stories we heard. Planes had crashed in Boston and Los Angeles (amazing how these things become like Chinese whispers --- arrival and departure cities become crash sites), another one into the Pentagon, and somebody had heard that there were 8 altogether, 3 still unaccounted for. We braced ourselves. I had visions of the film Independence Day --- the aliens/the "enemy" taking out the main cities.
What at the time seemed like another bomb went off (around 10 a.m.), in a smaller building to the Northeast of the Twin Towers. Gasps and screams rang around, as clouds of bilious dust rose. I only realised a few days later that this crash was the collapse of the South WTC Tower. Had the North one fallen first, we probably would have been engulfed in that thick grey mass.
All telephone lines were jammed of course. On my mobile phone the only numbers I finally got through to were Al's wife's voicemail so he could leave her a message, and my friend's voicemail, leaving her my parents' phone number in Leeds and asking her to call. She works in Jersey City, across the river from the Southern tip of Manhattan, but also over there all phone networks were down. She only got the message late in the afternoon.
I was trying not to look back, but couldn't help the occasional glance over my shoulder as we continued striding North in the now choking heat. I noticed my stomach was in a tight knot, my throat was parched, my whole body contracted and tense. My stomach tightened still further when I turned to see the upper floors of the North Tower waver momentarily and implode, the huge antenna chasing the cascading floors into the ground, one steel corner of the structure remaining a second or two longer than the rest and then disappearing. Unable to bear looking at the monumental mushroom of smoke, I turned away and almost into a woman who, like the tower, crumpled into herself and onto the ground. Fainted. Her colleagues brought her to and she was breathing. I can't say, "She was fine". Nobody was. Aside from several men, women and children shedding tears --- from sobbing to convulsing to screaming --- there was an overwhelmingly sombre air of grim stoicism. Numbness.
Passing Pier 40, where the previous evening after an afternoon of torrential downpours and thunderstorms I had played with the Bank's football team, I just wanted to get away. Would rain have helped today? The thought came and went almost instantaneously. I didn't want to think about anything. I wanted more than anything to speak to my mother and let her know I was OK. Outside a pier building further on, people were handing out plastic cups of iced water. Like at a marathon.
[I am one of those music-loving men who see themselves reflected all but perfectly in the arch list-maker Rob Gordon's character in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and, as in the novel where Barry suggests compiling a top 5 "Songs for Laura's dead Dad" list, I was unable to help myself and songs and lines of songs flooded into my head. "Get Out of the City" by Ivy, "Isn't it Great to be Alive" by Spearmint, "Get me away from here, I'm dying" by Belle and Sebastian. Even songs I really don't care for: the "Just gotta get out, I've just gotta get right out of here" line from "Bohemian Rhapsody" (but from Cud's shambolic cover version, as it's much faster) and even bloody Melanie C's "Things Will Never be the Same Again". Things never will.]
Later (it must have been 11:15 or thereabouts), passing Chelsea Piers, I hear a voice asking if anyone wants to go to New Jersey. The group from our bank had spilt up, but everyone had been walking north and was now far enough away. And the rumour was that all traffic into and out of the city was stopped. Driven by a desire to find a landline to make phone calls, we took the Spirit Cruises ferry across to Weehawken, New Jersey. Waiting to set off, a man told us that the National something-or-other for the Freedom of Palestine had claimed responsibility for the attacks. Another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania somewhere. The South of Manhattan was still (and would be for days) under a cloud of smoke, yet one could tell that the Twin Towers were no longer there. Unimaginable. But true.
On the ferry were other employees of the Bank, who had arranged to meet some of their colleagues in Arthur's Steakhouse in Hoboken. I just went home to try and make phone calls. Luckily, an old school friend managed to get through just as I was trying to listen to my answerphone messages. I told him to call my mother and I'd give her a call in a few minutes. In the end it was a while later before she finally managed to get through. After drinking a large gin, I had tried in vain to make other phone calls, so after (hopefully) convincing my parents I was physically and (as yet) emotionally unaffected by the events of the day, I gave her a list of numbers of people to call back, as I couldn't get an outside line.
Alan and I hugged each other as he went off to try and catch a train home from Hoboken terminal. I miraculously managed to receive a call from my friend S., who was meeting 2 other friends in Hoboken. We went for something to eat and to sit outside at the Sinatra Park Café. All afternoon, I was torn between wanting to be with other people and wanting to try and let people know I had got out and away. As we sat there with a view of the City, I explained how I believed 7 World Trade Center, reckoned already from the morning to be in danger of collapsing, was behind that big, brownish building with the horizontal black rectangle near the top. A minute later I looked back and the building I had described was gone, displaced by yet another heap of ash-emitting rubble. By late afternoon we had come back to my flat and I had succeeded in establishing that 5 of the 6 others in my department were safe. The sixth we could not reach. I also managed to gain a connection and send out an email (below), and later another to those who had written to me.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 6:21 PM
Subject: Isn't it great to be alive?
yes, I do work in the building next to the (ex) World Trade Center. Yes I got out OK. For those of you who know Mayo, he is fine as well. The level of structural damage to our building will, I suppose, determine whether I still have a job to go back to. Probably. We (like all banks in NYC have to) have an emergency site in upstate New York, so we may be working there for a while.
I've picked a relatively random list, so forward this if you think anyone else would want to read it.
Cheers and chin up.
In the evening, I found out the sixth colleague from my department had been contacted. We watched some more television. What affected me most was thinking of the emergency services who had rushed in their hundreds into the stricken towers and had then been crushed. And that thousands of innocents had surely lost their lives. Oh, and that it could have been me, I suppose. After a while, we couldn't watch and instead put on the film Snatch on pay-per-view. This helped take our minds off other things.
At night, staying at my friend's, as I didn't want to be alone, I closed my eyes and could only see images of this morning. The North Tower crumpling. The woman fainting. People falling from buildings. Like in a film on repeat loop. Like on the A-Team, after the eponymous heroes had just exploded some old barn with a tank they had built from a few pieces of wood and screws, forcing the baddies to jump in slow-motion to....well, to their stunt airbag. Nobody ever dies on the A-Team.
after tuesday, september 11, 2001
As almost all public transport in the City was down, the week was spent communicating with work at our contingency site to the North of the city and at the Head Office in Frankfurt via email and phone (when I could get through --- the phone networks in the whole New York area were still a mess for much of the week). We were not able to do much until we managed to access (or should that be salvage) our systems, some of which, and some of the connecting cables out of he city, had been destroyed on Tuesday. So I spent time e-mailing friends and relatives, trying to call them where possible, watching television, going to the gym, spending time with friends, generally keeping busy. My favourite email received is from the captain of the pub football team I managed and played for when I lived in Frankfurt --- "Well done bonny lad! Good to see you haven't lost the speed over the 1st five yards, when needed."
I cry just once, seeing an elderly Jamaican woman interviewed. She was calm and clinging to hope --- her sister had just recently begun a new job at Windows on the World at the top of WTC 1. My only thought was that the sister was dead and the poor woman's faith was futile, yet she would not relinquish it. She is typical of the resilience I have noticed both in interviewees and in inhabitants of Hoboken, New Jersey (which looks over at Manhattan, in fact my window does). There is a defiance, a will to build from here and live through this. Good. And lots of American flags. One thing I would like to mention --- New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani (whatever I may think of him otherwise) has been absolutely magnificent this past week, as a leader and as a symbol of the rescue effort. He was one of the first on the scene, not far from losing his life as the towers came down, and has been ubiquitous --- in a comforting, positive sense --- ever since.
I was most shocked by two other events: looking at a photo on my wall, taken of me by my parents in April, at the top of the World Trade Center (where my sister and brother-in-law had been the week previously - they left on Sunday, thank goodness); and seeing --- in the cinema --- a trailer for the forthcoming (well, May 2002) Spiderman film. After a glimpse of the red and blue arachnid chap climbing a few buildings, the scene pans out to a helicopter crashing into a web he has spun --- between the World Trade Center towers. I have since heard that, obviously, that trailer has been stopped.
Looking forward, I'll be going back to work at a different location tomorrow and we may be able to move back into 2 WFC at some stage, still pending the report on the level of structural damage the building sustained. The thing that worries me most is the small matter of impending war. I fear that Bush and the USA will yield too quickly and arbitrarily to the pressure of angry US citizens wanting somebody to "pay for this" and not really caring too much who. I have heard people in bars wanting to "get the bastards" --- the suggestions for how to do this seemingly extending to levelling the whole of the Middle East. Except Saudi Arabia, the oil-richest country, of course. Lucky for my friend Smith, the first to email me, and leave messages on my mobile and home phones on Tuesday morning --- he lives there. We'll see what happens, but I hope the powers that be realise that 2 wrongs can never make a right, even if it makes Americans feel better.
today monday, september 17, 2001
I can't believe it has been nearly a week --- we finally confirmed that all our Bank's employees are accounted for and safe. Nobody I know is missing --- I'm very lucky. Friends of friends, yes, but nobody I know personally. Yet, one employee's father died in the World Trade Center, and one employee's wife --- the one whom I had told she would be safe --- is still missing. There had been accounts of people helping her down the stairs (she is conspicuous as she's pregnant), but she is missing. She'll be dead, no doubt, and I told him she would be okay. Now it's hitting home.
[I would like to dedicate this account to S.B., who helped me through this week and looked after me. Oh, and quite possibly saved my life on Tuesday morning. THANK YOU.-A.G.]
Note from Janice: When I was looking for images to accompany Andrew's article, I just couldn't bear to bring you anymore images of destruction and death. I think we've all had those images permanently embedded in our minds. So, instead I decided to use these beautiful pictures from this gentleman's site, of fellow human beings, from all over the world, sharing in our grief. It's a lovely, touching site, and I encourage you to check it out.