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The Longest Week

Tuesday morning continued

As soon as she heard the news, journalist Wickham Boyle rushed to P.S.-I.S. 89, about four blocks from the towers, to pick up her child. "I jumped on my bike and headed out through the crowds, brandishing my press pass. I saw my Henry, goofy with a bunch of friends. I told the principal I was taking as many as would come with me. Before we hit the streets, I gave directions: 'Stay together; hold hands; keep moving forward. Listen to me.' By the time we made it across the West Side Highway, a third of them were crying. I kept moving calm kids over to the hysterical ones, switching partners in mid-run. As the first tower fell, a huge column of smoke began rushing toward us. I yelled, 'All my kids against the wall — all my kids, stand still!' "

Even after the first plane hit the south tower, Stewart Sloan, a structural engineer at the Port Authority, continued to work. His office was on the 74th floor of the north tower. "I called my mother and a good friend to let them know I was okay." When the second plane hit, Sloan and about five of his co-workers still didn't leave. "We had absolute faith in the strength of the building," Sloan says. "I went over to my buddies nearby and checked in with them. All of us had an aversion to the stairwell because we had all experienced the crowded, dark, and smoky stairwells eight years ago." By the time they cleared out, the stairwell was empty until about the 25th floor. Near the sixth floor, Sloan felt what he now believes was the collapse of the south tower. "I'm sure the firefighters knew from their radio what had happened, but they didn't tell us, and they stayed at their posts and continued to guide us out," Sloan says. "I turned around and watched the top of my building coming down. I stood and watched one floor after another, after another, after another."

At 10:01 a.m., filmmaker Tony Bui was sprinting away from his apartment on Greenwich and Rector Streets, trying to outrun the wall of dust and debris. People were tripping, falling, choking in the cloud; he held his sweater over his mouth and raced into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, climbing around and over stopped cars. "So much debris and soot and smoke went into the tunnel with us that it was hard to breathe in there," he says. "I thought we were gone. It was like Pompeii." But up ahead, some women found a service door. "I heard this massive yelling — Go to the door! Go to the door! — and everyone just ran." Seconds later, they were in another section of the tunnel, still packed with frozen traffic, but where the air, at least, was clear. They ran the rest of the way to Brooklyn, emerging into the sun on the Gowanus Expressway.

On Church Street, a block from the Trade Center, at 10:30, hoses are tangled all over the pavement amid rubble and ash. Firemen and volunteers are trying to lug them away from debris. No one seems to be in charge. A fireman comes up: "Does anyone know where Tower One used to be?" "Right there," says someone, pointing almost straight ahead.

Laura Florman sits in the courtyard of Independence Plaza, the high-rise where she's lived for 22 years. Her 38th-floor apartment faced the Twin Towers, four blocks away. "The worst part was the people jumping out," she whispers. "There must have been a dozen or twenty that I saw. There was one man tethered to a rope, swinging, and then the rope broke."

Up in Greenwich Village, Christos Stavropoulos, a doctor at St. Vincents, had been performing abdominal surgery when he saw the top of the World Trade Center explode from his operating-room window. "We finished — obviously we can't leave the patient in the middle," says Stavropoulos, 31. "And then everything else was canceled that was not urgent." Some emergency-room arrivals died on the table. "One fireman died of crush injuries; that was the worst thing I saw. He was together, but obviously there was a lot of internal damage," he says.

At 11:30 a.m., the lines to donate blood at St. Vincents stretch from the corner of 11th Street and Seventh Avenue all the way around the block, past Ray's Pizza and up Sixth Avenue. Scores of people arrive each minute. Hospital staff shout for people to sort themselves by blood type; after a while someone makes cardboard signs with O+ and O- on them, and everyone lines up.

On Varick Street, Dave Macri is leaning against a tree face-first. He has on an orange trading jacket. "When I saw the second plane hit, I went into the stock exchange. They locked us in on the floor. You could feel the explosions. The electricity went out for a second, kind of wavered. You think there's tension there on a normal day, forget it. I went outside. It was fucking Mount St. Helens. Fucking Salvador Dalí in real life. I have a lot of friends up there. They're probably dead. It was like the moon or something, dead silent. The soot was so thick you could barely hear the sirens. And look at it now. You look to the left, wouldn't think anything was going on. It's a gorgeous day."

Next: "I just wanted to get away from any capitalist shit anyone would want to bomb. I figured the Village was safe.. "