Ground Zero Diary

Snapshots of a Tragedy

Jenifer, a producer for New York Metro, watches from Brooklyn:
"Hearing that subway service out of Brooklyn had been suspended due to a possible bomb threat at the World Trade Center, I turned on the radio, only to find that no stations were getting reception. Same thing with TV. Then, I walked outside and saw plumes of smoke trailing all the way from Manhattan into the skies over my neighborhood.

I headed to the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. A couple hundred people had gathered, watching in shock as flames and giant smoke clouds shot out of gaping, jagged holes in both World Trade Center buildings.

People were saying that the Pentagon had been destroyed, that the White House was on fire, that six cities across the U.S. were under attack. Some people were listening to radios trying to get the facts straight; most were wandering around in horror.

Twenty minutes later, the first tower crumbled. I heard myself saying 'Oh my God, oh my God,' over and over again. People were sobbing and shaking.

Within seconds, the Manhattan skyline was unrecognizable, enveloped in smoke as thick as a nuclear mushroom cloud. Debris and dust were already blowing across the East River. As I walked home, there were so many particles flying around, it looked like it was snowing."

• At 10:30 am on the Upper West Side, a rider who hadn't heard the news yet asks her taxi driver about the heavy traffic. "Like it happens every day, the driver says, 'the towers went down.' It took well over an hour to reach my office and all I could say to the unruffled driver, the entire time, was 'Oh, my God' over and over."

• On a subway train, a woman explains the morning's events to her seatmate. "One plane was lost," she says, "and another plane was a rescue plane that was trying to find it."

• A woman arrives at her office near Grand Central. The rest of the staff, and most people in the building, had already left following reports that a plane was headed toward the nearby U.N.

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."

And in my mind, I saw an image of the kind of plane JFK, Jr. went down in. I thought, he must be wrong. A small plane couldn't do so much damage.

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 knew I had to go home, but I think I must have been in shock. I had promised my son Charley that I would buy him an assignment book for school. I found myself outside Staples and I went in.

I was the only customer. I couldn't concentrate.

Next: As soon as we said hello, there was a huge explosion behind me...