September 11, 2001

Versión en Español

It was a beautiful, cloudless late summer morning just before 7:30 a.m. I gave my girlfriend, who had spent the night with me, a hug and a kiss, we exchanged “I love you’s”, wished each other a good day and parted ways. Little did we know it would be a day we would never forget.
My morning view, every day,  from the the NJ side of the Hudson River.

I hopped on my motorcycle and enjoyed a nice ride to work. I owned a brand new sport bike, it was a green Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R. I arrived at my office, as usual, at 8am, to prepare my cup of coffee and look out my window. It was a pleasant morning routine. Even more pleasant was simply working there, it felt as if I were on top on the world. Minutes later, two of my coworkers had made their way into the office. Soon we were conversing over coffee. We worked for Thermo Electron, a $2 billion dollar/year Fortune 500 Life Science corporation. They recently opened up an office in the World Trade Center to house the eBusiness Development Team. I had started only 6 months prior.

As Tim and I are chatting, over morning coffee, we heard this sudden swoosh, like that of a rocket and then a large explosion. The sound was so fast, we did not have time to look to see what it was. The explosion shook the building as if it were going to collapse. We looked at each other in amazement and quickly ran to the center of the office – away from the windows. Looking out the window we saw there was fire, debris, and smoke coming from the floors above us. I’ll never forget the look on Tim’s face. We dashed back to our desks, collected some personal belongings and began our exit. We were 85 floors up on Tower One of the World Trade Center. There would be no easy way down.

Before even seeing the conditions in the hallway, we knew we were going to take the stairs. As we grabbed our belongings a man came running into our office screaming for help, and the exit. He was hysterical. Later I found out he was in the bathroom when the plane hit. I told him to calm down, and that I knew where the exit was.

My office was in the area circled in red.

Our office had double doors. The left one tightly secured, and the right one locked by a security magnet. Both doors were blown open by the impact. The nearest exit was to the left, adjacent to our office door. As I rushed towards the door, I noticed the hallway was dark and there was a very strong smell of smoke and burnt fuel. I ducked down and ran to the exit. I ran fast. I looked briefly over my shoulder down the long hall and all I could see was complete darkness. It was pitch black; no lights, no emergency lights, no sprinklers, only smoke. I quickly ran into the stairwell where conditions were completely different; there were air conditioning, light and fresh air. We ran down four or five flights of empty stairs as fast as we could.

At approximately the 80th floor, we came to a complete stop. There were a so many people… we screamed for them to move on, but they did not. They politely told us the line was moving, slowly, but moving nonetheless. We quickly became patient and joined them in their decent. There was an embankment on the 78th floor, where express elevator that went up the first 78 floors without stopping, and then other elevators would incrementally go up to the top. Here we switched to another set of stairs which took us to the 85th floor. As we crossed over, I noticed the elevator banks looked like they had exploded. The marble walls were shattered and the elevator doors were bulging out. We quickly moved across that floor to another stairwell. At that time, I noticed a blind gentleman I had seen many times before; he was accompanied by his guide dog. Someone had him by the arm and was leading him to the same stairwell we were going to take. I have since read in the newspaper that he made it out ok.

The next 30 fights were stop and go. At about the 40th floor, we came to a dead stop. There was a closed door and a fire on that floor. That was a very scary moment. Someone behind us yelled out that he had the key. When he got to the door, it was the wrong key. I thought to my self, “I don’t want to burn to death”. The group quickly looked for another way out. We moved back up one floor to another nearby stairwell. We made it down another 20 flights in the same manner, stop and go. All the while people were very orderly; we kept our calm. Many of us didn’t know what had happened. I, for one, thought it was a helicopter or a small plane that had collided with the building. I was told it was an airliner. I quickly associated the sound I heard with the size of an airliner, no helicopter or small plane could have made the sound that I heard. Thoughts of a rocket or missile had crossed my mind. But I knew U.S. defenses would not allow that to happen. Later, someone said it was a terrorist attack, and both towers had been hit by passenger airplanes. That was another scary moment. I knew then I was in the middle of a terrorist attack.

At about the 22nd floor, we came across the first firemen. It was a relief to see these men. They assured us we were going to be ok, and that everything below us was ok. I recall one fireman saying “It’s smooth sailing from here on, so walk quickly, but safely.” That was a very reassuring moment.

Many of these firefighters were out of breath. They were tired, drenched in sweat and some were even on the floor resting. Image running up 20 flights of stairs with an oxygen tank on the back, an axe, a metal rod, a hose, and all their protective clothing! That must be over a hundred pounds of gear.

The rest of the way down was truly fast; so fast it was unexpected. Suddenly we saw daylight, yet another relief. We exited the stairs on the second floor which surprised me; I thought we’d get out on the first floor. The second floor is actually ground or street level. The first floor is one flight below the ground. There were firemen and police everywhere. I looked through the glass and saw debris everywhere. There were about half a dozen bodies spread out as well, albeit they looked more like globs of red gelatin. Later I learned they were the bodies of folks who had jumped from the floors above mine… a horrific sight.

The authorities lead us to the Concourse level, which is underground. This area had many stores, such as The Gap, Banana Republic, The Body Shop, etc; basically, it was a mall. Firemen and police instructed us to move quickly through that area. We came up at the other end of the mall, about a block away from the towers. All in all, it took us about an hour to get out of the building.

My memory of the collapse is VERY close to this image

As soon as I was outside, the first thing I did was look up. To my amazement, both towers were on fire. Tower One was ablaze about 3/4th of the way up and Tower Two was ablaze about half way up. It looked like something out of a movie. Officials instructed us to walk east. About 30 seconds after we came outside, I heard this crackling sound. I looked up and Tower Two was collapsing. I thought, “Oh my God. RUN!!!” That’s exactly what I did. During the whole walk down, I was together with my two coworkers, but this time all I could think was “run for your own life.” I ran as fast as I could. I left my two coworkers behind. I ran straight ahead.

I looked back and I saw this HUGE dust cloud coming towards me VERY FAST! As I crossed an intersection, there was another dust cloud that had cut me off from the right. I had my motorcycle helmet in my hands so I put it on just as I was engulfed in the dust. The helmet did not help. The dust made its way up the chin area and filled my nose. I ripped the helmet off and couldn’t see a thing. Everything had turned to night. It was so dark. I could not breathe, see, or hear anything. I tried to breathe though my mouth; all I did was fill my mouth with dust so I had to hold my breath.

As I was running, I remember I seeing a building to my left. People were rushing inside before the dust cloud hit. Through the darkness, I made it to the doors of that building. They were glass doors, and, to my misfortune, they were closed. I tried to shatter the glass with my motorcycle helmet. That did not work.

Things were very confusing. I managed to open my eyes a little and noticed people inside. I felt around to my right and found the opening to a set of revolving doors. I pushed and was able to make it inside. Once there, I coughed very hard trying to get that dust out of my throat. Finally, I was able to take a breath. However, the dust would not remove itself from my throat. Nonetheless, I was safe for the moment, and I could breath.
I noticed a phone. I grabbed it and called home. My younger brother picked up the phone. He was so calm, as if he did not know what was happening. I told him to put on my mother on the phone. When she heard my voice, she broke down, she was hysterical. I told her to calm down, obviously I was ok, she, however, did not understand that. She mentioned my girlfriend was there. I spoke to her also.

She too was in a state of hysteria. I reassured her and hung up the phone.There were about a hundred people in the lobby of that building. The majority had sought refuge, as I had. It was mayhem- confusion everywhere. People did not feel safe; they were looking for a way out of that building also. They moved like sheep, all together and in the same direction. I moved in my own direction, opposite theirs. I found someone’s Dunkin Donuts coffee; I grabbed it and gargled with it. That removed about 50% of the dust from my throat. I kept the coffee until I had removed all the muck. As I coughed, someone grabbed me and sat me at the security guards office. I told him I was ok, while another woman handed me some napkins and turned away. As I looked outside, the darkness was subsiding and daylight light was coming back. For me, that was a sign that I had to get out of there. I needed to get away from downtown as fast as possible.

I made my way to a bathroom. I washed my face, hands, and mouth. I grabbed an orange juice from the rack, and walked outside. No, I did not pay for it, neither were there cashiers to collect any money even if I wanted to. Once outside, there was about 2-1/2 inches of dust on the floor. It looked as if it had snowed. Police and other officials were confused. People walked like zombies and everything was silent: no sirens, no talking, no birds, nothing but confusion. Folks, what you see in the movies is as close to reality as I would suggest you get. It is very spooky.

I started to make my way north. I found a bus that would take people uptown. It was full of people, but I managed to find a seat.

I met up with a gentleman who was in the stairwell with me. He told me his wife was in Tower Two. He was trying desperately to call her on her cell phone, but cell phone were not working. In my mind I doubted she was alive, but I kept that to myself. The bus moved about three blocks and stopped– traffic was not moving. Everyone on the bus decided to leave the bus and walk.

As we walked uptown, Tower One collapsed. We were now about 10 blocks from the towers, but fear and uncertainty made us run for our lives yet again. This time the dust cloud did not come near us, but it was a scare nonetheless. Soon after I met up with Carlos, my mom’s husband. We walked together to 42nd street and 12th avenue where a ferry was transporting NJ residents across the Hudson River. There was a 2-1/2 hour wait to board that ferry. But I had a means of getting on that boat faster than anyone else. I was covered from head to toe in white dust. I asked a police officer to get me on the boat because I needed to see a doctor. He agreed and got me and Carlos on. We walked from the ferry port to my house, about a 25 minute walk.

When I took that first step onto the stairs of my house, a shiver went down my spine. I finally felt safe. When I waked inside, my mother greeted me with an unbelievable hug. It felt like I had died and came back for one last hug – that was in intense moment…

Suffice to say, things have not been the same since that beautiful, cloudless Tuesday morning. I have recuperated as much as possible. I still dance; I am still the same person I was, I think; only I see the world with new eyes. There will be no getting back to normal. Normal will never return. I’ve begun a new life. Everyone in my immediate family was there when I got home, including my girlfriend. That’s when I realized that my life had been in danger. Up until that moment, I was in survival mode. During all this time, I did not comprehend that I had escaped death. I guess you could say I was in a sort of shock. I insisted we go to the hospital. The doctors were amazed that I had made it out ok. They ran a battery of tests, gave me a clean bill of health, and let me go home.

Jareau Almeyda

Jareau AlmeydaSeptember 11, 2001