The morning after the attack, I typed an email giving a brief account of the events
and sent it to my family and a few friends. Soon, the email had been forwarded
to recipients all over the world. It may have been the first written account of the
tragedy that was made available...in any case, I received an enormous number of
responses from well-wishers everywhere. I wish to thank all of you who responded with
kind messages of hope and relief and thanksgiving...they were sincerely appreciated.
This is that original email, with some slight editing (such as removing my cell phone number,
which was in the original email).
As you know, I had kind of a rough day yesterday. All Adaytum and D&T people who were on our call got out quickly and are all fine. Other than my swollen feet from walking all day, I am personally no worse for the wear.
We got to the WTC at about 8:30 to prepare for our 9:00 presentation...nothing out of the ordinary there. We were issued photo IDs at the security desk to gain access to the towers...I wondered whether I was supposed to save it or not for the next time I visited the WTC. John had gotten his laptop booted and the projector ready for the demo when out of the blue there was a large explosion and the building lurched to one side - my immediate thought were that it was either an earthquake, or another bomb in the basement. The building only swayed for a few seconds, as we were simply frozen waiting to see what was going to happen. The building stabilized, and we all quickly left the room and headed to the stairs. I made a point to go to the other side of the room to grab my laptop case and my suit jacket...I was sporting my spiffy new Italian suit that day, and sure as hell wasn't going to leave my jacket behind, or my laptop. Figured it would be days before any items left in the buildings would be returned.
So, from the 63rd floor we joined the exodus out of the building. Everything was amazingly orderly...no one was hysterical or otherwise freaking out, although a few were trembling and crying a bit, but you can't blame them for that. Thing was, we all figured that what ever had happened was over, and we were safe, although inconvenienced by having to climb down all those stairs to leave the building. The thought didn't enter my mind that the actual structure of the building had been compromised...had anyone understood exactly how grave our situation was, I don't think we would have been quite as cool and collected as we were. On the way to the stairs, we could see debris (a LOT of debris) falling from above - we reasoned that it must have been a plan that hit the building above us, rather than anything that had occurred below us. Immediately upon entering the stairwell, there was a distinct stench that no one could recognize, figuring it was just some kind of smoke. I knew immediately what it was, though, because I've smelled enough different fuels burning in my life to recognize that these had to be the fumes from the burning airplane fuel - which meant if nothing else, we were perhaps at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. I didn't mention my analysis of the stench - figured there was nothing we could do about it, and didn't want to give everybody a reason to panic. People coming in from the floors were bringing wet paper towels with them, so eventually we all were trying to breathe through those, which helped a bit. Somewhere around the 40th floor there was a guy in a wheelchair, clearly unable to move on his own, in the stairwell with a couple people attending to him trying to figure out how to get him out of the building. A few floor later, a woman was being attended to for one reason or another - later, we saw an eyewitness report on TV from a guy who evidently had been in our stairwell too (he started on the 65th floor) - he related seeing the guy in the wheelchair, and a woman who was having a heart attack on the way down.
Things progressed fairly smoothly until we got into the low 30s - then the descent slowed as we had reached the total maximum capacity of the stairs, and it was like stop-n-go traffic in Chicago the rest of the way down. On the 25th floor or so we were met by firefighters coming up the stairs. They were completely exhausted, not only from the climb but all the equipment they were carrying. The fire chief (said so on his hat) sat down on the stairs next to me, as I was standing on the platform at that floor, to wait for his men to break into the locked door to that floor. The firefighters wouldn't say much, other than confirming that it was a plane that hit the building, and that we simply needed to continue down. When the men had opened the door, the chief got up and collected his equipment, but dropped a pry bar on his way to the door. I picked up the pry bar and shouted "Chief!" to get his attention, but he was already gone - one of the other firefighters took the pry bar, and probably 20 of them entered that floor. I think they must have been planning to use the elevators to go up higher - I don't believe there was any damage to that floor.
Somewhere around the 15th floor a water pipe must have burst in the building - the stairs became a waterfall, and women were being advised to put their shoes back on due to broken glass at the bottom. Eventually we made it to ground level...I will spare you a description of what I saw on the ground outside the building. It was like a scene out of a movie, or a war reel. I chose not to look at the scene for too long, and proceeded as directed by police to the basement level, which connected the towers to a mall on the other side of the street. The floor was covered in broken glass and debris, and a good 3 to 6 inches of water. We made our way to the mall, and back up and out the other side. Once outside the building we turned to view the damage to the tower...and were amazed. We had no idea the damage was that bad - and we also didn't know that the second tower had been hit. At first I reasoned that probably the whole plane didn't hit the first tower, and the wreckage probably continued to the second - it wasn't until someone on the street told us that there was a second plane. The police corralled us to about a block away, and from that point there were thousands of spectators gawking at the surreal view provided them. There were about 8 of us, including both Adaytum and D&T people, at that presentation...we had gotten separated on the way down, and at this point I was accompanied by Graham and Scott (D&T). We had no idea where the others were, such as John and Steve, but we were confident that they had gotten out of the building.
We lingered for a couple minutes, then decided to just get away from the scene and all the ruckus. We walked for several blocks in no particular direction but "away" before happening to run into another of our D&T compatriots (Bob). We stopped at a small bakery while the other guys stood in line to use the pay phone outside - cell phones were useless as all the circuits were used up. I bought a small coffee and a pastry of some kind and waited for them inside. I wasn't in any hurry to call anyone, since I didn't think any of my friends or family knew I was in NY anyway. In a short while, Bob and Graham and Scott had made their calls, and Bob suggested that perhaps we should just head to another D&T office in the city, since we really had no where else to go. Bad thing was that the office was up near Broadway - about 50 blocks away, and it wasn't like we were going to be able to get a taxi.
On the way out of the bakery, we turned to look at the towers and suddenly realized that something was terribly wrong...there was only 1 tower. One of the towers had collapsed while we weren't watching, which shocked us all. None of us thought there was any threat of such a thing...I realized that probably the jet fuel (we'd by then found out that they were fully fueled commercial airliners that hit) soaked through the interior of the tower, and the heat from it's fire compromised the metal superstructure of the building. It was also while at the bakery that we were told the Pentagon had been hit as well, and that this was clearly an act of terrorism, rather than some awful accident.
We continued walking towards Broadway, occasionally pausing to listen to someone's car radio, as people congregated around them to hear the radio reports. A short while later, the people we were walking towards on the sidewalk gasped, and we turned to see the other tower crumble and fall. The resulting cloud of smoke was enormous...and that was all you could see from then on - there wasn't enough of the towers left to see at all.
Eventually our tired and swollen feet made it to the D&T building, where we relaxed a bit and made some phone calls. We watched TV for a bit while pondering what to do - we all just wanted to get out of the city, but the roads and trains had all been shut down. After watching the news for a while, where we actually saw footage of the second plane hitting the second tower, we were advised that the trains had resumed service out of the city (but not in). So we took to the street once more and headed to Penn Station, where after a moderate wait we boarded a train on the Trenton line, which was the line that Graham had used to come into the city that day. His car was parked at the Metro Park station - but he had left his keys in the WTC. After conferring with his wife about possibly getting a second set of keys to that station, we instead decided to ride all the way to Trenton, where one of Graham's friends picked us up and took us to Graham's house, on the outskirts of the Philadelphia area. We arranged for hotel rooms, went to Target to buy a few essentials, and by the time I had gotten to my hotel room and showered, I was so tired that I simply couldn't keep awake even to eat, and was sound asleep by probably 8:30.
So, here we are...Scott and I are probably going to get a car and drive home, or maybe Amtrak. Should be home in a day or two. I left my cell phone in Graham's car overnight to recharge (my wall-socket charger was left in my hotel room - in a hotel about 1 block from the WTC. I have no idea if that hotel even exists anymore), but will have it with me for the rest of the trip home. The number is ###-###-####. My total losses for the event are just what I had left in my hotel room (I was planning on staying the night there again yesterday) - just clothes and boots and assorted other stuff. A few of the rest of us lost our laptops, etc., but not a whole lot of that matters much. We got lucky, and that's all there is to it. Neither strength, nor skill, nor knowledge would have saved you had you been in the floors above where the planes hit. By the simple stroke of luck that we were 20 floors below the impact we we able to survive. I am grimly rather sure that no one who was above the impact zone made it out. But we did...with my precious little laptop...think maybe I'll have it bronzed or something.
Kaleb L. Northrup
Director of Presales
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