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THE MORNING THE SKY FELL Thinking back on the morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001, there wasnt anything in the air that was a warning sign something horrible was about to happen. It was a beautiful clear morning, a little chilly, but that was normal for that time of year. Vendors were selling fruit, coffee and donuts just like they did every day. The trains were crowded like always and the only major concern on peoples minds was getting to where they needed to go on time. Several blocks east of the World Trade Center, I was scampering to work myself. I stopped off to grab an orange juice, cinnamon-raisin bagel and the Daily News before heading to the Water Street offices of the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. My cubicle was located on the east side of the twenty eighth floor of the building. From my side I could see Brooklyn and Governors Island. On the west side where the cafeteria was, we had a clear view of the World Trade Centers twin towers. Two beautiful silver towers that stretched high into the sky. Didnt matter how many times a day I would see them, I had to stop and marvel at them. This particular morning I was a little tired from the day before. The prior day Chubb threw its annual office party on the Circle Line cruise vessel. In years past we always had the event either in the office conference room or out on the plaza behind 55 Water Street. This year, the powers that be decided to get us away from the office and have it out on a boat. The Circle Line went up and down the rivers on either side of New York, giving us a magnificent view of the city. It took us under the major bridges, past the Empire State Building,

Chrysler building, out near the Statue of Liberty and finally past the always awe inspiring twin towers of the World Trade Center. Even though we were housed in lower Manhattan and saw them every day, seeing them from the water was always breath taking. We all took pictures of the twin towers from the boats deck when we sailed past, then continued partying for the rest of the day. Everyone had a great time despite the fact it was a Monday and we had to be into work the next day. When I got in, I logged on to my computer, set my breakfast out and opened the paper. I usually gave myself fifteen minutes of morning downtime before I got started. Usually I would trade barbs about baseball with one of my coworkers, Gary Anderson. Gary was an old school guy and loyal to the teams he was fans of. In regards to baseball, he was a diehard Yankee fan and I, a Met fan. It was important that we boasted about our team wins, even though his team seemed to always be the one in first place. Although he hated the Mets, he always said he respected me as a fan for sticking with my team when they were down; which was every season. And I teased him every time the Yankees lost as well. But it was just good clean joshing. We always shared a laugh in the end. Gary was at his desk on the phone when I settled in so got to reading the newspaper. Peter, another one of my coworkers, knocked on the top of my cubicle and startled me. Yo, yo, yo, whats going on? he said smiling. Peter was much younger than me, but he very level headed. He knew when and where to act cool. Nothing much man, you know how it is, I said.

That office cruise was crazy yesterday huh? Man that was a lot of fun. I hope we do one of those again, he said. I didnt think it was going to be I stopped talking when I saw of our female co-workers running past my cubicle at top speed. They had worried looks on their faces. Peter noticed it too and looked down the hall to where they were running. Something happen? Peter asked. I dont know, I said, and then I waved off their passing. Well, any way, did you see this article in the paper about? Two more co-workers ran past in the same direction. They too were looking worried. I looked at Peter. He was now looking out at the rest of the cubicle filled floor. Something happened. Everyones getting up, he said. I stood up and looked out at the office. I could see people hanging up their phones and running from their desks to the west side of the building. I left my cubicle and started to walk to the walkway. Peter joined me and we stood side by side and looked. The walkway, by design, was wide enough for people to walk side by side down. It ran the length of the office. At the far end on the west side of the office, a group of people had gathered in front of the large bay window and were looking out at something. We couldnt see what they were looking at, but whatever it was it was attracting more people. Gary promptly hung up his phone and jumped from his seat. He stepped out of his cubicle.

Gary? Whats wrong? Peter asked. A plane just slammed into the top floor of the one of the twin towers, he said. What?! I yelled. The three of us ran down the walkway as fast as we could. As we approached, we could see out the window papers floating through the air like confetti at a parade. By then half the office was at the window. We couldnt see the towers clearly from our position. So we made a quick detour and went into one of the offices of one of the managers who had not come into work yet. From there we could see the towers as clear as day. The farthest one, the north tower, was billowing smoke near the top. Oh my God, Gary said. Ohhh! Peter cried out. Are you serious? I said. How the hell did that happen? The tower looked like a factory smoke stack. Black smoke rose from its side as fire burned out of the windows. Paper continued to fly across lower Manhattan as the sounds of fire engines blared far below. Those people, Gary said. All those people that work up there. Damn, the observation deck, I said. My God I hope there were no children up there on a field trip.

You said a plane crashed into the building? Peter asked Gary. Whatd the pilot do, fall asleep? Im just telling you what I was told, he said. For years planes flew low coming into Manhattan. I, myself, had always wondered what would happen should one come too low and clip the two tallest buildings in New York City. Never in my life did I think I would see it. The manager whose office we were standing in came in and dropped his briefcase. We started to leave. Stay, dont leave, he said as he watched with amazement from his window. That plane just slammed into the building. You saw it? I asked. I was just over there. I was on my way to a meeting at Canter-Fitzgerald when we heard this strange sound, like a rocket or something. I look up and this plane just came down and hit the building. The manager continued to stare at the billowing smoke. It just nose dived into it. What do you mean nose dived? Gary asked. You mean the plane hit the building on purpose? It looked that way. Garry backed away from the window. A plane wouldnt just purposely fly into the twin towers, I said. Why would someone do that?

Its terrorists, Gary said. Remember what happened in the garage some years back? Its those terrorists who tried to blow up the building before. Gary was referring to an attempted terrorist attack at the twin towers back in the nineties. The terrorists drove a truck full of explosives under the building and detonated it. It rocked the foundation but the towers never fell. They had vowed to try it again at some point, but many of them got convicted and thrown in jail. No one had heard from them since. Cmon man, I said. This is a bit much dont you think? They wouldnt have waited this long to try again. Im telling you this is an attack, he said. We all stared silently out the window. Some of the papers that were flying by were scorched. The sight would have been beautiful if not for the backdrop of the building burning. How are the firefighters going to get up there to put that out, Peter said. Thats what, the 100th floor? I have no idea, Gary said. You know theyll have to do, I began, Theyre going to have to get one of those planes that drop water on forest fires and fly over that and put it out. The sprinkler system cant put that out, Gary said. They have planes that do that? Peter asked me. Yea, they have these big planes that scoop up water from a lake, then fly over the fires and dump it. Depending on how big the fire is they usually have to do a couple of fly bys. I turned my

head and looked out the corner window. Coming in from the south was a large jet. The planes look something like that one right there. I hadnt noticed that it was a passenger jet, not the one that put out forest fires. Id never seen a jet up close while it was in flight before. At first it looked like it was going to pass our window and continue flying uptown, but then it turned and started on a collision course for the second tower. Wheres that plane going? I heard someone yell out on the office floor. Oh my God! Gary yelled. No! I screamed. Is hes going to Peter never finished the sentence. The plane went head on into the south tower. It crumpled up like a piece of paper being balled up, and then it looked like it was swallowed by the building. It disappeared for a split second. There was a moment of eerie silence. Then a huge ball of black smoke erupted from where the plane struck the building. The smoke rolled back and from within it came a ball of pure fire spitting out hunks of metal. The fire ball rolled up the side of the building and began to fan out. Below it more chunks of metal and glass began to fall toward the ground. As the fire grew higher, it rolled over twice before turning into a plume of black smoke that climbed up into the sky. No! I screamed as I collapsed to my knees. Ohh, oh no, Peter said. He tugged on my shirt collar. Marc, get up. We have to get out of here.

Suddenly I couldnt breathe. All the air in my lungs was gone and I went dizzy. I began gasping for air as tears started streaming down my face. The scenario of the collision was playing over and over in my head. I fell over on my hands and started coughing and grabbed my chest. I heard Gary yell. Hes hyperventilating! Marc! Marc, just breathe buddy, just breathe! I looked up at Gary, still unable to breathe. I turned back to the window and debris was still falling. Where there once was beautiful steel and glass was now a black mass and smoke pouring out of it. Dont look, I heard Gary say as he put his arms under me and lifted me to my feet. Cmon kid. Gary carried me out of the office. Around us panic had filled the floor. People began to run in different directions. Some ran to their phones to call family, others grabbed their things from their desks and ran for the elevators. Nobody use the elevators! I heard Victor, a manager that was at the window, scream out. Dont push and panic! Go to the stairs! I saw Peter running ahead of me, clearing a way as Gary carried me back to my desk. My vision had gone blurry from the tears. Out the corner of my eye I saw another person coming up alongside me and take my other arm and put it around his neck. I got him, Gary, John Villas, an office supervisor, said. Its okay Marc, just breathe. Cmon, breathe.

They carried me back to my cubicle and sat me down. I was gasping for air like a fish out of water. I remember trying to speak, but nothing would come out. Itll be okay, Marc, Gary said. Its gonna be okay buddy. John handed me a paper bag and instructed me to bend over and breathe in and out of it. Try and calm down, John said as he fixed his glasses. Take slow easy breaths. I felt his hand on my back. I leaned over and started to breathe in and out of the bag. I couldnt get the vision of the plane flying into the second tower out of my head. I kept seeing that fire ball going up in the air. I closed my eyes and kept breathing as tears streamed down my face. Is he okay? I heard my manager, Grover Wright, ask over my cubicle. Im fine, I said taking the bag from my mouth. I have to get out of here. Im clearing the floor, Grover said. You all need to head to the stairs. Marc, can you walk? I can walk, I said as I started to grab my things. Leave it, Grover said. Nothing here is important but your life. He turned to Peter. Pete, go out this way. Peter didnt bother to go back to his desk. He made his way to the stairs while Gary helped me to my feet. We started walking to the stairs behind the rest of our co-workers. In the stairwell the lighting was dim, but I could see the mass exodus heading down. Workers from offices on the floors above were making their way down the stairs quickly. I joined

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the crowd and started to make my way down the stairs. Everyone was moving in an orderly fashion. There was no rushing or panic, but you could hear the concern in peoples voices from the conversations that were being had. I was feeling dizzy. Nevertheless I was determined to get out of there. That plane almost hit our building, I heard someone say. Thats enough, someone barked. Lets just get out of here in one piece. I wiped my eyes so I could see better. With each floor we passed I regained my composure. By the time we hit the bottom floor, my sight was clear and mind was on how I was going to get off Manhattan Island. We exited the stairwell through a large door that let out across from the elevator bays. Security waved to us to cross the elevator bays and head across the lobby. The crowd did as they were instructed and made their way past the security directed desk and out onto the street. Security didnt tell us which way to go when we left the lobby, only that the building was closing down and no one was going to be allowed back in for the day. I calmly went through the revolving door and out onto the street where crowds of people were making their way in multiple directions. I looked around for Peter, Gary and Grover, but none of them were in sight. As more and more people filled the street, I didnt see anyone from my office. I was on my own. I decided to head north in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. South was Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry. Beyond that, there wasnt anywhere else to go in that direction. So I

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walked down to the corner with a group of people and stood against a street lamp. I could hear sirens in the distance from fire trucks racing toward the World Trade Center. The air smelled like jet fuel and burned paper. The street level noise from the people around me was deafening. Garbled conversations, screaming and crying filled my ears. I saw no signs of cabs or town cars going in any direction. Busses were at a standstill. Crowds moved from the sidewalk to the street. It looked like New Years Eve in Times Square times one thousand. I started to feel boxed in so I kept walking until I could step into a side street and clear my head of the chaos around me. I had to get back to Brooklyn, but I couldnt think how. Standing on Slip Street, I considered my choices. The train station I normally came out of was on Wall Street; right in the direction of the World Trade Center. I knew there was chaos up there and I wasnt going to try to go that way. Cabs and busses werent moving. I was going to have to walk, but how would I get across the East River? Then it hit me; The Brooklyn Bridge. I had forgotten about the walkway on the bridge. In the chaos it wasnt an option in my mind. It was the best way to get out of Manhattan at that point. So I began walking as fast as I could down Water Street toward the Brooklyn Bridge. When I reached Wall Street, I stopped and looked west toward Trinity Church. There I could see the twin towers clearly. Both were spewing black smoke into the morning sky. People had gathered and were looking in horror. As much as I wanted to get home, I couldnt simply walk away from what I was seeing.

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Images of my childhood came back to me. The day my parents took me up to the observation deck to look out at New York City and I marveled at how small the world looked. People looked like ants, cars looked like matchbox toys. The clouds in the sky seemed so close that if I were on the roof, I could touch them. The twin towers, as we called them, were a wonder to behold as a child. I recalled the time after seeing The Wiz; my dad took me to the towers plaza. In the film, the World Trade Center was where the wizard of Oz resided. I pretended to act like one of the residents from Oz by trying to strut around the marble statue in the plaza center. The twin towers for me were New York. Two large twin brothers welcoming you as you crossed the bridge from Brooklyn into lower Manhattan. I used to try to build them with Legos. They were the buildings I drew as a child when asked to draw a picture of New York City in class. Now, they were burning. I could hear people around me trying to make calls on their cell phones. They were frantic in trying to get in touch with family and friends. But with so many people using the system at the same time, it was hard to get a signal. Those that who had made it through to someone, they were giving them a play by play of what they saw. Its just burning, one woman close to me said. I heard the explosion, but I didnt see it. I dont know how Im getting home. Are the subways running? The question interested me. I looked at her and we made eye contact. We didnt need to speak to one another for her to know I wanted to hear the answer to that question. So nothing is running out of lower Manhattan? she said into the phone. You should walk across the bridge, I said.

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Is that what people are doing? she asked me. Thats what Im doing, I said. As I turned and started to continue down Water Street, I heard her tell whomever she was talking to that she was going to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge and try and get a cab home from downtown Brooklyn. I walked swiftly. Passing the South Street Seaport where it seemed like hundreds of people were gathered and watching the towers burn. I glance at the towers as I walked by, but I didnt stop this time. I simply shook my head in disgust. I was on a mission to get to the bridge and get back to Brooklyn. It was going to be a long walk across the river. There were several ways to get onto the bridge by car but only one way by foot. The route I was going, only the ramp for cars was accessible. Three blocks away from the bridge I could see people walking up the ramp where cars would turn onto to get to the span. A huge crowd was preventing vehicles from getting on. There were no police there to redirect traffic so they drivers had to wait. I joined the mass exodus of people and walked up onto the roadway leading around a turn and onto the bridge. Many people stayed on the roadway and crossed the bridge despite the traffic on there. I started to follow them until I saw several people scaling the fence to get onto the pedestrian walkway of the bridge. I decided to do the same. Last thing I wanted to do was have to contend with traffic. As I started to climb over the fence, two men walked over and helped me over. I thanked them and started walking up the walkway toward Brooklyn.

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There was a man on a bench with a radio and people had gathered around him to listen to the news. I stopped too and leaned in. And we have just received word that plane has struck the Pentagon in Washington D.C., the reporter said. The people around me gasped and cried out no. Yes, it has been confirmed that a plane has struck the Pentagon. We have not heard confirmation from the White House as of yet. But it is believed that this incident is related to the two planes that struck the World Trade Center in New York City. Were under attack, the man with the radio said to the crowd. Im telling you this is some kind of attack on America! That was it for me. I couldnt stand there any longer and I didnt want to hear any more news. I needed to get home. I turned and looked toward Brooklyn and all I could see was a mass of people heading away from the city. The sight of all those people comforted me. I walked away from the group by the radio and got in with the crowd headed across the bridge. My eyes were fixed on the first tower of the bridge. I figured if I could at least make it to that point, the rest of the way would be simple. So I started walking up the walkway again. Several people had stopped along the sides to take pictures of the towers. I refused to look back. The initial shock of what happened had started to pass and I was trying to put the image of the planes collision out of my head. I looked around at the faces of those walking near me. They looked annoyed and angry. Then a man to my left looked at me.

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You would think after what happened before they would have something in place to keep this from happening. Now what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to make a living like this? he asked. I was dumbfounded. In the shadow of tragedy, he was worried about going to work. I looked to my right and there was a woman a little shorter than me with long black hair, a black dress and flats. She had her arms crossed, her head was tilted down and she was sobbing as she walked. I guess she felt me looking at her because she lifted her head and looked at me. Her face was wet with tears. I didnt know who she was and I didnt ask her name. But I stepped closer to her and put my arm around her and tried to comfort her. I thought she was going to tell me to take my arm away. But she didnt. Instead, she stepped closer to me and put her head on my shoulder and started to let it all out. I rubbed her shoulder and put my head against hers. Its going to be alright, I said to her softly. Try and keep it together. Im trying, she said. I know youre scared. Im scared too. But I know theyre going to find a way to put those fires out. She didnt reply. Instead, she kept crying and I just held on to her. We walk together up the ramp onto the span and reached the arch of the first tower. She stopped and looked at me. Thank you. I think Ill be alright from here, she said wiping her eyes. You sure? Do you want me to stay with you? I asked her.

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I think I can manage, she said and she hugged me. I hugged her back and slowly stepped away. I watched her turn back to Manhattan and watch the towers. I waited for a moment, just in case she changed her mind. But she just stayed there. I continued on. I was on my way to the center of the bride when I spotted a small group of people trying to calm a woman down that was sitting on a bench. They were giving her water and comforting her. I looked to my left and there were other people consoling one another. It didnt seem like any of these people knew one another. They were just stopping to help. It was an amazing thing to witness. Total strangers were helping one another selflessly. I turned around and saw the woman I was walking with coming toward me. She wasnt crying anymore, but she still looked shook up. Are you still going to Brooklyn? she asked me. Yes, come on, I said. I put my arm back around her and we kept walking with the crowd. We were both quiet until we reached the middle of the span. Do you really think theyll put those fires out? she asked me. Im sure theyll find a way. I dont think it can get any worse at this point, I said. Suddenly there was a loud explosion from behind us. Everyone on the bridge, including myself and the woman, froze. The few seconds it took for all of us to simultaneously turn around

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to see what had happened felt like a really long time. I closed my eyes and whispered Please God, please dont let that be another plane. I slowly turned my head. One of the towers shook then, like a raging waterfall, began to collapse straight down. A plume of smoke rose up as steel and glass buckled and broke, sending the top of the building down into a plume of dust until nothing was left. There was a heart wrenching cry from everyone on the bridge as we watched the full destruction of one of the twin towers. There was no saving it. In a matter of seconds, it was gone. Smoke from debris traveled like a fast moving fog across lower Manhattan to the seaport. The haunting white cloud enveloped everything in its path, including people running for their lives. Groans and cries rose up from the roadway below the walkway. The woman turned her head and put it into my shoulder. She cried. I didnt. I felt hope die within me. Until that moment, I really thought that the fire department would put the fires out. All that would be left to do was clean the building up, clear it out and repair it. But the fires heat was too intense and it had melted the steel. The weight of the top of the building was too great. Sonofabitch! I screamed. We need to get off the bridge, the woman said to me quietly. Yea, I said. Yea, we do. Calmly we turned continued across the span to the next tower archway. Once there, I looked back one last time at the single tower left standing.

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Helicopters hovered over the site while fire trucks raced across the bridge to engage the madness. All of lower Manhattan south of the bridge was covered in the debris fog. Were just getting word now that one of the towers in New York has collapsed, a news anchor said on a radio someone was carrying. Everyone on the bridge grew quiet. The woman who I had guided across had disappeared. I never got a chance to ask her name. But she was safe and thats what mattered. I turned and continued on to Brooklyn. I kept going until I saw the Welcome to Brooklyn sign on the lamp post. I sighed with relief as I walked past and continued to follow the walkway all the way down to Tillary Street. Then I crossed the street, walked to the main post office and stopped there. I sat down on the steps and felt my composure start to fall apart. Everything I saw flooded back in my mind. I put my face into my hand and began sobbing. It was a very hard cry and it only lasted for a few, but when I was done I felt a great weight lifted off me. When I was done I got up and continued home. I remember thinking as I walked through downtown Brooklyn and up Flatbush Avenue that there was still a shining glimmer of hope. As long as the other tower stood tall and they put the fire out, it would forever stand as a representation of resilience of New York City. That no matter what you throw at us, we can always stand tall. The second tower eventually collapsed, but New York City stood as strong as ever.

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