Tuesday, September 11, 2001 - 11:02 PM

 

I donít think Iíve come to terms with what I have witnessed today. The only thing I can do to try to come to some closure on this is to try and document what I saw on the darkest day in recent history.

 

Today started out quite ordinarily. Chuck and I were scheduled for Sun Fire training on the 20th floor of the World Trade Center at 9AM. Certainly not very noteworthy in and of itself.

 

I got to the office at 7. Chuck arrived 15 minutes late. I grumbled to myself about being on time and missing out on 15 minutes of sleep, but I kept to myself. Traffic was horrible, as usual, and we made our way to the Path station in Jersey City.

 

We got on the Path to the World Trade Center- probably it was about 8:40 or so. Nothing to comment on. I hate the Path. Its dark, dingy, but Chuck swears by it so I didnít complain. We exited in the World Trade Center station and I noticed immediately a strange diesel fuel-like smell and a haze in the air. I jokingly thought maybe someone was running a bus in the station. Now, New Yorkers walk fast, but I noticed that people were moving along quite a bit faster than usual. The transit cops down there said there was a fire, and that everyone needed to quickly exit. I wasnít too panicky, but I expeditiously made my way towards the exit.

 

We escaped into daylight into quite a commotion. We turned around and looked up to see a gaping hole in the tower and flames streaming out. Quite a shocking sight. We were forced a few blocks away where Chuck and I were staring at the tower bewildered but not overly concerned. We were cracking jokes about the training being cancelled and missing meetings and stuff. I was thinking that I wish I had my camera to take some pictures. All the fun and games came to a halt when people started jumping to their deaths. I donít quite know how to describe what that looks like. It really looks like someone threw a large rag doll- it doesnít look real at all. After watching a few people jump it was then I realized that this was not at all fun and games. I heard in the crowd that a plane had struck the tower. Not surprising to me at all. Iíve been on the observation deck, everyone knows that you look down on the planes as they fly near the city on landing approach. Surely, this was a tragic and horrific accident. Too many damn planes in the air I remember thinking, it was bound to happen eventually. Of course, I heard the mumblings ďdeliberatelyĒ and ďterroristsĒ but I dismissed those. You know how paranoid New Yorkers are.

 

It was about that time that tower 2 spontaneously exploded right before our horrified eyes. Iím only 2 or 3 blocks south of the tower and what I saw was like something out of Die Hard or Terminator. Trust me, they got the effect right. As we all stood there staring, it seemed like an eternity as the tower was engulfed in a ball of flame. It wasnít until a few milliseconds later that the massive concussion wave stuck the dumbfounded crowd and I realized in that instant that I was probably going to be killed by falling chunks. Everyone did the worlds fastest 180 degree turn and ran for their lives. I saw Chuck slip into the building directly behind us. The door closed and was magnetically locked behind him. I pulled on the handle in a futile attempt to follow, but realized that it wasnít going to budge. Then I really thought that was the end. I ran towards the next building, which I saw had a little cranny behind a 6 or 7 foot tall iron fence. In an instant I saw my shelter from the falling debris. I was over that fence so quickly I donít even know how I did it. I fell to the concrete on the other side, and scrambled into the little masonry shield with my back towards the Twin Towers. I waited for gravity to do its magic and bring all the deadly missiles safely to earth.  I realized in my hiding spot that I cut my hand and my leg was hurting like nobodyís business. I also realized that there was no reason that an accidental crash into tower 1 would cause tower 2 to explode. This was serious- if the intention was to bring down the tower, I would not be in a very good spot to survive such an event. Once it was clear that the immediate danger passed, I walked out of my shelter and turned to see tower 2 burning. Time to go. I continued south, limping all the way to the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

 

I was hurting, but alive and far enough from the Towers to be ok. Next order of business: Get the hell home. How? Terrorists attack buildings, bridges, tunnelsÖ but probably not the ferries. The Water Taxi that docks at the Trade Center was probably blown up, I figured, so I had to head up north to the NY Waterway ferry. I knew it was a hike but the most likely exit from the city to be unaffected. So I licked my wounds and made my way northeast, staying out of collapse radius for the towers. As I crossed the area directly east of the Towers, I saw bits of what was obviously airplane parts and some chunks of building. No doubt about it, it was an airplane. I continued limping my way northeast and then northwest, to catch up with the West Side Highway where the NY Waterway is. Iím not sure how far it was. I couldnít walk very quickly and needed to stop frequently. I tried many times to call home, the office, Chuck- without success.

 

I walked north on the walkway, parallel to the West Side Highway. I donít know how many hundred emergency vehicles I saw- they just kept coming. I walked with countless thousands of the living dead. I remember reading accounts of the Hiroshima survivors, as they made their way, bleeding and burned, to the river. I am the living dead, a ghost, walking silently away from the disaster behind me. I recall hearing a strange whooshing noise, and I turned around and watched the first tower vanish in a cloud of dust. I remember saying out loud something to the effect of ďWell, they finally did it, congratulations!Ē Not very poetic, I must admit.

 

It turns out that the ferry was the way to go. The NY Waterway was totally overloaded. So much to the point that the floating dock became unstable which caused a minor panic. Fortunately the Circle Line and other tour boats began taking on passengers. I managed to get on the second ferry out and made our way back over to Lincoln Harbor back over in Weehawken. I didnít care where it went, as long as it was in New Jersey.

 

Half way out in the river, we had to wait as the other ferries unloaded people. We sat dead in the water. The dust of what was the Twin Towers billowing out in the background. The eerie silence of no airplanes in the air. It was as if the world had died and we were in limbo. All I could do was bow my head and think about the countless individuals who were just killed before my eyes. And of course, how grateful I was to be a little beaten up but alive. I was able to eventually get messages to home and the office, I found out that Chuck was OK and everyone was worried to death of course.

 

Iíve witnessed The Hindenburg, Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima in one. Itís quite a mind numbing experience. I havenít quite figured out what to feel. Iím not at all a religious man, but today, I prayed for those we lost, and I was thankful for my very life. Certainly, Iíve managed to clear my schedule- and certainly it puts things into a more realistic perspective.

 

September 11, 2001 is certainly a date which will live in infamy. I donít think neither I nor this nation will ever be the same again.

 

Mike Pepe

 

Additional:

 

I wanted to make a minor correction. It turns out that who I thought was Chuck running into a building was not in fact him. He actually ran further down the block and hid behind mailboxes. I just wanted to update that. Also, the Sun training was on the 25th floor of tower 2, not the 20th.

 

Also, thanks to friends, family, and strangers alike for the kind words of support. And on that line of thought, I want to encourage everyone to take a moment and think before acting out of anger. The enemies of the USA and civilization are terrorists, and not Muslims. I have a great many friends that are Muslim, and I can assure everyone from firsthand experience-and contrary to popular belief- that Islam is not a religion that looks favorably of terror, murder, or suicide. I  encourage everyone to stand in solidarity with the forces of good from all nations in combating the forces of evil.

 

What now? A few quick comments: Trains. People do not hijack trains and crash them into buildings. The skies are overcrowded and the rail network in the USA is truly substandard in comparison with those in Europe and Asia. I think we should concentrate in improving and supporting rail travel as we rethink our transportation system.

 

And, if you ask my opinion: rebuild the World Trade Center. Make it bigger, make it better. Show those who would perpetrate such a cataclysm that the US and indeed the indomitable spirit of New York will not be diminished in the face of such tragedy.

 

Thank you all.