Perspective: September 11
Adam Oestreich, Merrill Lynch employee at the World Financial Center
September 12, 2001
I was at work when the two planes hit the
Towers yesterday. My office, 2 World Financial Center, is/was on the 24th floor and faced the
Towers from across West Street (the west side highway). I was at my desk when the first plane hit. We shook
a bit in our seats but didn't know what happened.
I ran to the window and looked down; I thought it was a car bomb (like in 1993). I saw a parking lot that had a variety of things on fire. People started screaming about the tower (this was about 45 seconds after impact).
I ran to the other side of my office and saw fire raining down. Parts of the building was falling and on fire along with paper and other things. We had to look way up because the plane hit in the higher floors. The impact hole was huge -- it looked like 10 stories were burning. The fire seemed to crawl around the tower. The winds were so high it caused the smoke to spin in a large swirl.
It is hard to describe how the building looked from my angle. You just couldn't believe what you were seeing. At that point we didn't know exactly what happened. About a minute after the crash was reported by the news our phone started ringing. Everyone called their wives, husbands, and friends and said: "Did you see what happened?!?" "No, it wasn't us." "Yes, we know people."
I was walking around the desks at my office when the other plane hit. It felt like a big earthquake. I stumbled with the hit. People started yelling. One man in my office saw the plane go in and screamed it was another plane.
We ran again to the window. This time it was much lower in the tower and seemed worse than the first because it was so much closer to my office. People on the street could feel the fireball. My manager started yelling -- "Everybody get the fuck out! Everyone get out NOW!"
I grabbed my bag, palm pilot and my juice and headed for the stairs. 24 floors isn't that bad; they were full of people. Some were very upset, a few were panicky. We got to the winter garden (lobby) and headed out to South End Street (parallel to the river). I walked out and just saw a crowd staring up at the burning Towers. It was surreal this is the only word that can be used to amply describe the scene.
I stood there for a minute and watched the fire climb up, down and around the towers. I heard sudden cries from the crowd and looked up and saw people falling/jumping to their deaths. And I wish I could say there was only one. It got worse as the fire spread.
I then moved next to the marina and watched a bit more. Trying to call anyone proved almost impossible. I left messages for my immediate family and lent my phone to two guys who had to call their wives. I then started walking up the West side highway with the rest of the refugees. And I mean refugees. People carrying odd stuff crying, shaking and in total shock. I could only find 4 people from my office. Fortunately all were OK, but every got separated when we headed for the exits.
I then came upon a guy with a telescope aimed at one of the towers. The picture I will never forget. At about the 60-70th floors, people were hanging out windows trying to get air. Literally holding onto the side of the building waving a T-shirt to try to get someone's attention. I couldn't watch any longer. I kept walking, and about 10 minutes later I was about a half mile away and was talking with someone and we heard this sound that can only be described as a "thundering crack." That is the best I can do. I then saw what I thought was just a chunk of the WTC but it was actually the whole tower. I said it wasn't ... I couldn't believe it ...
With the first collapse people started running from the wall of smoke, dust and ash that erupted. The running wasn't very panicked, which helped. I then went to a car on the side of the road with about 15 other New Yorkers -- it was a true melting pot: a punk, few suits, office men and women, odd workers, truck driver, secretaries etc. That is when I learned about the Pentagon and the hijacking. Walking home I heard that "crack" again. I ran to corner to catch the second plume of smoke and debris from the second tower collapsing.
I stood there for a while in utter shock and disbelief. Then I took the long walk home. The city was closed. The streets were crowded with people and emergency vehicles and that was it.
After walking home, I ended up rollerblading from my apartment up to my parents' place (about 5 miles). It was so quiet -- thousands of people were just walking home from everywhere, the silence was deafening. I even tried to give blood at four different locations, but they were overloaded with volunteers.
One of the hardest parts was trying to call people. Both land and cell lines were overloaded and failing. By today (12th) I was able to get in contact with most people. I finally gave blood -- it took 5.5 hours.
As of now, my office building is still standing, but I believe our windows were blown out and the office heavily damaged by debris from the collapse.