WTC September 11, 2001

The piece below was written by a Bank associate, Cary Sheih, who was in
the WTC when the disaster took place. It’s hard to read, but gives a first
hand account.

Dear All,

Now that I can begin to think clearly again, I would like to take the time
to thank each and every one of you for your concern of my well-being. It
was a very close call, and I am grateful to be alive.

As you probably all know by now, I narrowly escaped from the World Trade
Center attack this past Tuesday, unlike the thousands who are still
beneath the rubble. At 8:48am on Tuesday morning, I was reading my email
like I do every morning. I had just gotten off the phone with a traffic
engineer at the Port Authority regarding a file that I had transmitted to
him on the previous day. As I was finishing off my usual peanut butter and
jelly sandwich, I heard a loud explosion, which was immediately followed
tremendous building sways and vibrations. As I was thrown out of my
I immediately thought that this was an earthquake, but still thinking
rationally, I thought that it was abnormal since there are no earthquakes
NYC, especially of this magnitude. I remember thinking that the building
felt like it was going to collapse from this initial explosion.

As I picked myself up and ran to the emergency staircase located in the
of the huge building, I saw through the east facing windows debris and
fireballs falling from the top of the building. The building had
by the time I reached the stairwell, and evacuation had commenced quickly
but calmly. Not knowing the gravity of what was happening above us, people
had started pouring into the stairwell from the hallways of the different
floors. I saw a coworker from my floor (72nd), and we held and consoled

There were no public announcements in the stairwell, but the evacuation
seemed to be going smoothly, there were no more explosions as far as we
could tell, no smoke coming up the stairwell, and the building had stopped
swaying. We all felt like we were out of imminent danger. As we started
make it down the stairwell, people started chatting and gathering their
composures. I heard some people who had been there in ’93 telling others
that this was a piece of cake since the stairwell was dark and full of
in ’93. Others were joking about how Mr. Silverstein, who had just
taken control of the complex, must be fuming at what was
happening. A few moments passed and people began to receive messages over
their pagers that a 767 had accidentally hit our building. There was no
mention of a terrorist attack, and at no time was there any panic. Mobile
phones were completely out in the core of the building due to its
immenseness and the large distance from the core of the building to the
exterior where signals were usually stronger. There was no smoke at all
the stairwell, but there was a strange peculiar smell, which I later
remembered it smelling like how it does when one boards an aircraft. I
later found out that this was jet fuel.

Soon we heard shouts from the people above us to keep to the right. I
started seeing blind people, those with difficulty moving, asthmatics and
injured people filing down to our left. People were burned so badly that
won’t go into describing it. People kept filing down orderly and calmly,
but stunned.

Sometime around the 30th or 40th floor, we passed the first firefighters
coming up the stairs. They reassured people that we were safe and that we
would all get out fine. By this point, they were already absolutely
breathless, but still pushing upward, slowly and unyieldingly, one step at
time. I could only imagine how tired they were, carrying their axes,
and heavy outfits and climbing up all those stairs. Young men started
offering the firemen to carry up their gear for a few flights, but they
refused. EACH and EVERY ONE of them. As I relive this moment over and
in my mind, I can’t help but think that these courageous firemen already
knew in their minds that they would not make it out of the building alive
and that they didn’t not want to endanger any more civilians and prevent
less person from making it to safety on the ground.

We continued down the stairwell, slowly and at times completely stalled.
The smell of jet fuel had gotten so unbearable that people began covering
their mouths and noses with anything that they could find – ties, shirts,
handkerchiefs. Every few floors, emergency crew were passing out water and
sodas from the vending machines that they had split open from the
I had no idea how much time had passed by as I didn’t have my mobile phone
with me. Around the 20th or 15th floor, the emergency crew began
people in our stairwell to a different stairwell. They led us out of our
stairwell, across the hallway where I saw exhausted firemen and
emergency crew sitting on the floor trying to catch their breaths. I
to think why? What’s going on? This whole operation looked very confusing.

Nobody was giving us any indication as to what was going on. The wait in
the hallway to get to the other staircase was excruciatingly long as we
to wait and merge with the people who were coming down the staircase into
which we were filing. Why had they diverted us? As we started to get down
to the lower floors, water started to pour down from behind us. I figured
that a water pipe had burst or that it was water coming down from the
on the higher floors.

At this moment for the first time since the initial explosion, a sense of
panic began to grip me. Only floor 7, then 6. A few more to go, and I
be free. I couldn’t wait. It didn’t matter that the water was ankle deep.
was a few floors from the ground. Floor ,,,,4,,,,then all of a sudden, a
loud boom, and the building began to shake unbearably again. People
falling down the stairwell as smoke started to rise from the bottom. The
emergency lights flickered and then went out. The building was still
shaking, and I could hear the steel buckling. Rescuers below us shouted
for us to go back up the stairs. At this moment, I was choking and
tremendously. I managed to climb back up to the 6th or 7th floor and
the door to that floor. The water had already risen to my ankles, and the
floor was completely dark. A fireman led us with his flashlights to
staircase by the voices of another fireman who was guiding him through the
darkness. We finally made it across that floor to the other stairwell
we were greeted by the other fireman and told to hold. The look on that
fireman’s face said it all. He said something under his lips to our
indicating the severity of the situation.

With the image of the firemen communicating to each other and hindsight, I
believe that the fireman had whispered to the other one that Building Two
had collapsed.

After a few minutes of huddling by the stairwell on the 6th floor, we were
given the green light to run for our lives. I made it down six flights
a few other people and came out onto the mezzanine level of our building.
don’t know what I was expecting to see when I got out of the stairwell,
I was not ready for this apocalyptic scene. It was completely covered in
white dust and smoke. My initial reaction was that I couldn’t believe
one plane, albeit a 767, 80 floors above our head caused all this damage
the ground floor – inside. I covered my head and ran towards the huge
opening in the north side of the building through which we were being
evacuated. As I approached this threshold, the firemen yelled to us to
over to the wall of the building quickly. Debris was still raining from
all sides of the building. We could see the other firefighters who were
outside standing underneath the cantilevered parts of the black
building (4 and/or 5 WTC). At their cue, we ran from our building to the
outside world and back underneath the immigration
building. I was completely disoriented, coughing, and looking at the
strange new landscape at the WTC plaza – burning trees, wreckage,
and dust, nothing short of a nuclear winter. I climbed over huge pieces
steel wreckage and made my way through to the skybridge leading to 7 WTC
(building 3 to collapse). From there, I descended the escalators down to
street level onto Vesey Street and trotted to safety onto Church Street.
immediately looked back and saw the charred remains of the upper floors of
my building. Smoke filled the sky, and I began to have this eerie feeling
that WTC 2 was not there. I couldn’t be sure because of all the
smoke that was billowing from my building blowing eastward. As I was
to find WTC 2, I saw the unthinkable happen in front of my eyes. WTC 1
began to disintegrate from where it was burning. I turned around and ran.

I later learned that another 767 had hit WTC 2 around the floors where sit
in my building. I later learned that WTC 2 had collapsed when we were
inside my building on the fourth floor when it began to shake for a second
time. I later learned that I had been spared from the sight of people
falling from the higher floors. I am grateful to be alive and uninjured
to be able to share this life-changing experience with you. And, I am so
grateful for the courage of the firemen and policemen who gave up their
lives to help us down the burning tower.


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