September 13, 2001
Alison Somers, Brooklyn

It was around 8:35 am when I walked into 2 World Trade Center. I was squeezing in a few errands on either side of my working hours. I had dropped my ten-year-old son Charley off at school in Brooklyn and then gone shopping at Century 21.

Afterwards, I withdrew some money at the HSBC bank and took the escalator downstairs to the main concourse and joined an incredible throng of people. It was 8:45 am, and thousands were coming to work. I stopped to get a paper and cut diagonally through the crowd, weaving and dodging my way towards the subway station. I had almost reached the Uptown 1 and 9 station when there was an enormous explosion. The building shook. I heard people say, "Oh, no." Some, not many, were screaming.

We all knew at that moment that we were under a terrorist attack. Most of us assumed it was a bomb. I looked ahead past Banana Republic, past Citibank to the plaza outside. At that moment, there was a terrifying tidal wave of smoke filling the doorway. It began to shoot forward. The smoke had this enormous momentum that started to come towards us, as if it had a will of its own. We ran. We ran together past the Coach store. We ran to get out of the path of this enormous wave of smoke. It was like we were being chased. All the people on the concourse ran. We turned right, heading toward the PATH trains.

As we ran, shop assistants were calling in doorways, "What happened? What happened?" But we were running so fast we couldn't answer them and they ran with us. Some people were crying; some people were screaming. We moved as one body. No one pushed and no one shoved. We all had the same intention: to get out of the building.

I saw a door open and a young security man stepped out. Remembering the 1993 bombing, I thought there might now be a secure bunker to go to. I asked, "Is there somewhere we can go, somewhere safe?" He looked frightened. "I don't know," he said. "This is my first day. What's happening?"

I thought later that he might have died that day. I knew that security men had headed upwards into the tower, assuring people that it was safe to go back to work and that this was just before the tower collapsed. But there wasn't time to be scared. I knew that in an instant we might all be dead. I remember saying the same prayer over and over: "Oh God, let us escape. Oh God, let me get back to my two boys. I've got to raise those two boys."

We ran up the stairs. We pushed out through the doors. I was relieved to be outside. There were no police, no fire fighters. It was too soon for that.

We ran across the road, towards Brooks Brothers and Century 21, and then up Dey Street. Some of us began to separate now, but again we all had the same intention to get away from the World Trade Center.

I looked back and I saw that the upper part of the building was on fire. I thought, "How could a bomb reach so high and not damage the lower part of the building?" I couldn't understand it.

There was ash in the air. There were bits of paper flying around. I could hear sirens but they seemed far away. We walked faster. We ran. People were still helping each other, no one pushing past one another. We reached Broadway, and I thought, "North, head north."

People had come out of the stores and buildings together onto the sidewalk. Some were weeping. Others were talking into their cell phones or discussing what was happening. Everyone was shocked. "It was a plane," someone said. "A plane crashed into the World Trade Center, a commuter plane."

You could tell who had been in the building as you ran because their faces were covered with ash. I wondered if mine was. I ran my fingers through my hair. I felt soot.

I decided to get as far as City Hall, and I would stop at my friend Bebe's apartment building and ask her if I could come up to telephone Peter. I rang her bell and as soon as we said hello, there was a huge explosion behind me.

It was more terrifying than the first. People were screaming. The people around me couldn't see where the explosion had come from and it sounded like it had come from the sky.

I thought we were being bombed from above. I was aware of thinking, "This feels like Armageddon." The air was filled with the noise of sirens. Fire trucks, police cars were trying to get through on lower Broadway. The cacophony added to the general feeling of panic. I remember thinking if the fire engines and police can't get to the building, we're in real trouble. I thought there might be continuous bombing.

I was running up Broadway the whole time. I only felt safe once I had gone past Canal. I couldn't imagine terrorists wanting to bomb north of Canal Street.

I wanted to call Peter again. Every phone was busy. Finally, I found a place and when I reached him, he said, "Thank God." I was home by 9:30 am. Less than twenty minutes later, the first of the two towers collapsed.

 

 
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