Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

The Longest Week


Tuesday Morning

When the first plane hit, Greg Ferrari thought it was an earthquake. He'd been on a conference call in his 40th-floor office. Then Ferrari, a business analyst at Lehman Brothers, looked out the window and spotted something blue, which he believes was part of American Airlines flight 11. "I went back to my call and said, 'Guys, I think a plane just hit us.' " In the stairwell, the lights were still on, but "it was stop-and-go, and someone yelled, 'Why are we stopping?' " By the time he got down to the eighth or tenth floor, there were 20 to 30 firefighters on their way up. "We wished them luck and thanked them," he says. "Those are probably the firefighters that are missing right now."

Rich Bautista, 56, a construction consultant, was headed to a 9 a.m. appointment on 59 Maiden Lane, two blocks away from the World Trade Center, when he heard the first blast. "It was so fast, it was so loud," he recalls. "I just came out of the Fulton Street subway when I heard this terrifying explosion. I looked up and saw smoke surrounding the World Trade Center. People started running. There was mass hysteria." Bautista's co-worker Ernie Kneuer, 29, saw flames pouring out of the building. They went up to the 40th floor of their building just in time to see the second plane collide. "I saw dozens of people jumping to their deaths from the 80th floor," says Kneuer. "Bodies were landing on nearby rooftops and on the plaza."

On most days, Marco Haber, a 35-year-old tech writer for Marsh McLennan, on the 97th floor of Tower One, was at his desk by 8:50. But on Tuesday, he ran into a friend in the subway, and they stopped for breakfast in the concourse. When Haber saw hordes of panicked people running for the exits, he thought it was a gunman. Then someone yelled Bomb! and they both began running. "Outside it was raining little balls of concrete. I was choking on the dust," he says. Then he noticed the papers fluttering to the ground: "The first paper that I saw close up -- Marsh, right there, the letterhead." It was from his own company.

The windows in Deborah Hallen's sixth-grade classroom at P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights look out over downtown Manhattan. When students saw that one of the Twin Towers was on fire, she turned on the radio to find out what was going on, then immediately shut it off. But she couldn't shut out the scene unfolding in full view across the river. "It was really traumatic," she says. "I called down to the office and told the secretary, who didn't believe me. She said, 'How do you know?' and I said, 'We're watching it -- tell the principal.' " Hallen told her class she was sure many people had died, she says, "and that we needed to close our eyes and be silent for a moment. I gave them the date and the time and said that this was a day that they would never forget."

At 9 a.m., Julie Davis, 27, was on the 83rd floor of 2 World Trade Center, dropping off a friend's cell phone. She was about to get into an elevator when the second crash happened. "I remember looking at my watch a little after nine and thinking, Geez, I'm late," says Davis. "And then I hear a huge boom, then shrieks. People were pushing me out of the way to get to the stairs. One guy said that his friend watched co-workers get sucked out. Later, I saw him pass out on the stairs. I was thinking we were doomed because there were so many people on the stairs and it wasn't moving. Dozens and dozens of firefighters were running past us, telling us to stay calm and keep moving. I remember looking into their eyes, thinking how brave they were."

Tony Bristow, a 35-year-old construction worker from the Bronx, was working on Pier 54, dismantling a fashion show. "People were running out of the building," he says. "I helped drag one of them to the grass." A pause. "I saw three people jump holding hands. Then the wind took them in different directions. It was boom, boom, boom, as they hit different buildings coming down."

Mike Maguire of Engine 33 on Great Jones responded to the first alarm at 8:45 on Tuesday morning. He and five other firefighters made their way up to the 31st floor of the north tower, carrying lengths of hose, before they were ordered out. None of them was prepared for the whole thing to fall down. "We had no clue," he says. "When we came out of the lobby, everything was white. It looked like it had snowed. I remember looking over my shoulder and saying to someone, 'Where is the other tower?' "

When the second plane hit, Michael Elam headed for Trinity Church. The sky seemed to be raining bodies. At first Elam thought they were people falling out of the crashed planes. Then he realized they were office workers jumping to get away from the fire. He had just stepped inside Trinity when the first tower came down. "There were throngs of people all looking up," Elam says. "All those people were crushed when the second building came down. I ran for four blocks and stopped just past Chambers and sat down. But the cloud kept coming. I got up and started to run. I saw a fireman who was totally traumatized. He and another fireman were holding hands when one of the buildings collapsed. And then all he was holding was the hand."

New York 1 reporter Kristen Shaughnessy, 33, was covering primary day in Brooklyn when she got a call telling her to get to the World Trade Center. As she approached the Manhattan Bridge, the second plane hit. "We saw emergency-rescue trucks racing to the scene, and we cruised behind them," she recalls. At the scene, she began filing her story live to anchor Pat Kiernan from a pay phone a block or two away when she started seeing debris fall. "He was asking me, 'Kristen, where are you exactly?' and as I looked up, I saw that one of the towers was starting to crumble. For a moment, I thought, It's not going to fall on me. And if I don't finish filing, they'll be mad. But when the debris started flying in big clouds, and all I saw were FBI agents shouting at me to run, it hit me. I said, 'Pat, I have to run,' and I just dropped the phone."

Amanda Allen, 22, an assistant bank examiner at the Federal Reserve, is walking north on the Bowery below Houston. "When the buildings started to crumble," she says, "I saw people running, burning papers flying everywhere. I picked up a bloody, ash-covered business card from a guy at 1 World Trade Center, 94th floor. He's gone -- gone to Heaven."

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."

Tuesday afternoon

At the French Roast cafe on West 11th Street, a few shaken parents tries to explain the situation to their children. "Our teacher came in and said, ‘Sorry, kids, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center, so you're not having any recess,' " says Anna Budinger, a second-grader at P.S. 41. The kids seem most concerned about missing playtime until Anna's mom, Amy, tells them that the tragedy was not an accident: "Bad people wanted to hurt the World Trade Center, so they made the planes crash on purpose."

After the second hit, Jeffrey Corbin, a psychiatrist at St. Clare's Hospital, was asked to help staff an observation area. A firefighter was the first to arrive, he says. "He thought he was having a heart attack. He wasn't—but he'd inhaled a lot of debris. As doctors worked on him, he started saying, ‘I don't know where my buddy is.' His team was at the first collapsed building trying to dig people out when the second building collapsed. His buddy just disappeared." Throughout the morning, security guards, firemen, and police officers described the scene to him. "Guys were saying, ‘I signed up to be a police officer, not to be in a war zone.' One woman came out of the building and looked up and saw a woman holding a baby in her arms jump out a window."

At around noon, Nancy Whiskey, on Church Street, is filled with sooty businessmen, construction workers, a chef, a mailman with a fat cigar. The TV is on, but no one's watching. Two guys in back are playing quarters. Everyone already seems very drunk. People are comparing how close they were at various times in the blast. "We should bomb the shit out of the whole Middle East," says one of the construction workers. "Take it over and make it ours. Then this oil crap won't matter."

‘I know there are bodies in there," Father Alfred Guthrie, a Catholic priest, says to two firemen on Vesey Street as he climbs a pile of rubble perhaps twenty feet high. In a slow, mechanical voice, one says, "That building is going to fall." He points at No. 7, which is already listing. Father Guthrie climbs back out. "I have to get to the bodies," he says. He finds only one, with no sign of trauma, or religion. A policeman in tears grabs him—he'd lost brothers.

‘I was on the 98th floor," says Kevin Dorrian, a carpenter leaning against a van on Franklin Street around 1:30 with some fellow union members. "I saw a friend of mine get blown out the window. He was right there, three feet from me. He was putting up blinds. I couldn't do nothing. I took the stairs down, past the fires. I saw a light, a fucking lamppost light, blow up. The glass flew into a person. Killed him immediately." Dorrian's waiting to be allowed to go back in, to dig through the rubble.

A man on a bike heads down nearly empty Park Avenue South, yelling, "Go to the hospitals! Donate blood!" Traffic on 23rd Street heading east, toward VA and NYU hospitals on First Avenue, is all ambulances. F-16s are streaking and booming overhead. "A little late," someone says.

In Washington Square Park, at about 2 p.m., Keith Stressler, a trader, is sitting on the edge of the fountain, smoking. His office is in 3 World Financial Center; he started running after the first tower came down. "I couldn't see anything; I didn't know where the fuck I was going. I just wanted to get away from any capitalist shit anyone would want to bomb. I figured the Village was safe."

On the corner of Park Place and West Broadway, it is as dark as night. Plumes of orange smoke curl out of the windows of 7 World Trade Center. A fireman says the building is going to collapse: "We've stopped trying to put out the fire." A strange calm envelops the street as several dozen cops, firemen, EMS workers, and INS people in black helmets and vests stare silently at the building. Pieces of No. 7 begin to fall. There are no sounds of impact; each landing is silenced by the thick carpet of dust and paper. Suddenly, just before 3 p.m., there are screams: "Clear the area. Everybody out. Now. The building's going to fall." Perhaps it's weariness, but nobody runs. Everyone just moves deliberately. The building doesn't fall yet.

At 3 p.m., Luke Murphy of MTV is walking more than 100 blocks home to East Harlem. His feet are killing him, and he stops to buy sneakers, only to find that everyone else in the city seems to have thought the same thing. He finally finds a pair in midtown—women's sneakers a few sizes too small. "I was lucky to get them," he says.

On Worth Street, "computer tech" Wilfred Samalot, wearing an Airborne Ranger jacket and a gas mask, is meticulously scraping dust into plastic bags, which he then neatly tucks into a carrier on the back of his bike. "I'm going to have it sent to a lab and checked for foreign chemicals and human remains," he explains.

In Gramercy Park, the locked iron gates are open to the public for the first time ever. People heading up from Irving Place crunch on the gray gravel.

A man and a woman shuffle along Canal Street, arm in arm; the woman is hysterical. "My son, he works up on the 100th floor . . . I gotta go see if my son is at Beekman . . . How do I get to Beekman? They won't let me go to Beekman?" A cop tries to calm her. "You should go home and try to call, or they will call you if they know anything," he says. "My father is at home, he's waiting by the phone, we don't know anything," she says, tears streaking down her face. "There's no way to go to Beekman? How do I get to Beekman?" The cop tries again to persuade her to go home, but she continues down Canal.

By 4 p.m., reinforcements at Engine Company 24 and Ladder Company 5, at Sixth Avenue and King Street, are waiting to go look for their friends. Thirteen men from the overnight shift had been among the first firefighters at the scene. "My husband's new," says one young woman crying in front of the station. "He just started."

In the lobby of the Beekman emergency room, Benjamin Fogel, a 28-year-old man with a red beard and side curls, sits in a wheelchair; a cardboard tag around his neck has the schematic outline of a human body, with markings for injuries (a fractured right ankle, a lacerated chin, burns on his arms, legs, back). Fogel is a paramedic for Hatzolah, the Jewish ambulance company, in Brooklyn. "We were setting up a staging area in front of the towers when the second building came down," he says gingerly so as not to rip the stitches in his face. "I saw the building coming at me and then . . ." His voice is a monotone. "As we were running out, both buildings were on fire, there were body parts all over the street. We saw a young lady, pregnant, so we put her in the ambulance and brought her to the hospital." Then Fogel himself became a patient. "I am just happy to be alive," he says. "I have no words to say to the people who did this."

At 4 p.m., Alan Hevesi moves to the front of the line at the New York Blood Center on 67th Street (his blood type: O). "We're down campaigning at Borough Hall in Brooklyn when word comes out," he says. "I've got my staff in the Municipal Building on Chambers Street, so we drive back across the bridge. When we get there, the senior staff is arranging for evacuation. Then we hear the roar of the first collapse. The dust cloud comes over us, and I give the order to close the windows and shut off the A/C. We went back to Brooklyn by subway with Randi Weingarten to get our signs out of there. It's inappropriate. Now we just support the mayor." He looks up at the TV as Giuliani is speaking. "This, a crisis, is where he's at his best," Hevesi says, then catches himself. "Off the record. I don't want to sound like I'm giving him any praise."

‘W e were champing at the bit," says WCBS-TV reporter Vince DeMentri of his decision to sneak behind police barricades and report from 7 World Trade Center a half-hour before it collapsed. "I knew the story was in there." But after he and his cameraman slipped past officers, they lost all sense of direction. "From outside this zone, you could figure out where everything was," he says. "But inside, it was all destruction and blown-out buildings, and we had no clue. I walked into one building, but I had no idea where I was. The windows were all blown out. Computers, desks, furniture, and people's possessions were strewn all over." He found a picture of a little girl lying in the rubble. Then he realized that No. 7, aflame, was about fifteen to twenty feet ahead of him. "I looked up Barclay Street," he says. "There was nobody out. No bodies, no injured. Nobody. There were mounds of burning debris. It was like opening a broiler." (DeMentri was later arrested for impersonating a police officer in another attempt to gain access to the site.)

On the Seventh Avenue side of St. Vincents, workers are laying out cots and chairs, draping them with sheets, waiting for the injured to arrive. A Yonkers motorcycle cop sits outside, waiting to escort a car delivering blood, and people approach him for information. Someone asks if he knows about the blood situation. "You got me, I'm just down from Yonkers." Then he volunteers: "You know what this is, it's because of those liberal motherfuckers that you got here. Look around here—how many white people you see?" The crowd was probably 40 percent minorities, many of them uniformed hospital workers. "You can't even tell who the bad guys are. There's just too many fucking foreigners. They should have bombed that Sadat Hussein sic years ago."

On Greenwich and Chambers, a crew of frustrated rescuers—metal-union workers—gather in a clump. "We don't want to give interviews, we want to get in there," says one, slamming his shovel against the ground. "They've got to get organized."

William Delemo's bodega on Church and Chambers is closed to civilians. He says he saw the first plane hit because it was so low over his shop. "People died right over there," he says, indicating a spot three blocks north of the World Trade Center. The listener is skeptical, so he shows the outline in the dust of where one of the engines landed on a woman. "It was the worst thing I ever saw."

On the doors of the Masjid Al-Farooq mosque on Atlantic Avenue, where Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman once visited, a sign quoting Chapter 6, Verse 151, of the Qu'ran has been posted: " ‘And kill not that which Allah has held sacred.' May Allah expose the wrong doers and bring them to justice, no matter who they are." At 5:20, No. 7 finally falls. They've been waiting for it to go so they can move the firemen and search-and-rescue teams in. With the thunderous collapse, firemen bolt up from where they've been camped, on the south side of the Embassy Suites. Some have been sitting on plush hotel furniture carted into the street, eating food from the Mexican restaurant next door. There's a stampede over pickaxes and oxygen tanks. They head out toward the crushed fire trucks. "They're looking for their brothers," says an ambulance driver.

As No. 7 tips over, Church Street becomes a canyon of black smoke. The cops come flying up the street, pushing back on reporters and shouting to the remote trucks, "Back the fuck up now!"

Around 6:30, a 32-year-old woman of Middle Eastern descent is talking with neighbors near Westfield, New Jersey. "This one woman said, ‘We have to send all those people home,' " she recalls. "I made eye contact with another neighbor, who is also an Arab, and he just shrugged. I said, ‘What people?' and she said, ‘Those Arabs.' So I said, ‘If you're going to send those people home, you have to send me and my daughter home, and him and his daughter home. And where is home, exactly? Where are you going to send us?' "

A 50-year-old, silver-haired jogger gears up for his evening run and takes off down Greenwich Street. Behind him, a black cloud of smoke and the wail of sirens.

Around 8:30, word circulates among passersby on Houston Street that the president is speaking on TV. It's a half-hour before his scheduled remarks, and the patrons at Milano's suspect a bait-and-switch. Perhaps the White House has issued misinformation to thwart any interruption of the president's address? The president talked over the patter. He said the word children, and the crowd fell into silence. Afterward, two stone-faced women listened to CNN's Aaron Brown, broadcasting from a midtown rooftop: "This is a better speech than what the presidential speech-writers came up with."

Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift