Tonya Leary 11 November 2001
of September 11th was an incredibly beautiful day.
It was sunny, warm and clear.
I had gone to vote in the mayoral primary.
I was about to walk out of the building when a man walked in and
quietly said, “An airplane just went into the World Trade Centre”. I shrugged it off – initially thinking, “Yeah, right.”.
I walked the two blocks to where my building is – about a mile
north of the World Trade Centre with a clear view to the Twin Towers.
I looked up and saw the North Tower on fire.
It looked like confetti was fluttering in the sky amidst the black
smoke billowing from the building. I
immediately called my parents (who live 800 miles away in the Midwest) to
let them know that something had happened at the World Trade Centre, but
that I was fine. My parents
don’t really know Manhattan that well, so I wanted to assure them that I
was OK. We spoke only for a few minutes as I was on my way to work.
I had an important client meeting and I needed to get downtown –
about five blocks away from the World Trade Centre.
The streets were filled with people – talking, standing, staring,
and photographing – all looking south at this horrible accident.
I was walking down the street when I heard this collective gasp of
horror – the South Tower had been hit.
I didn’t see this happen – I just heard the collective gasp and
then reached an opening to look up and see the South Tower now billowing
with smoke. I had this uneasy feeling that something wasn’t quite
right, but thought that maybe the second building caught on fire from the
first. I was looking south
and could only see a corner of the South Tower and had no appreciation for
what had just occurred. I
heard people on the streets using the word “terrorists” – I thought,
“No, it is too early to know this – we need more information”.
I got on the subway to head down to Wall Street.
I asked the woman in the booth if it was safe to be on the subway
and she responded that the 2 & 3 were operating, but the 1 & 9
were shut down (the last two have stops at the WTC).
I got on the subway and continued to try to get to the office.
While I was on the subway, a woman who had headphones on took them
off and said to me, “The Pentagon was just hit”.
Up to this point, I was convinced that everything that was
happening was an accident. I
had faith that the Fire Department would get the fires under control –
lives would be lost, but more would be saved.
I got off the subway at Chambers Street. I was now feeling uncertain – something was terribly wrong,
but everything would be OK, right? The
streets were filled with people – it seemed like thousands.
Emergency vehicles, their sirens screaming, were speeding down
feeling very uneasy, starting to worry, but kept thinking, everything will
be OK. I have a client meeting this morning – I have to get to the
office. I walked east toward
City Hall – I ended up at the south end of City Hall Park. I was now three blocks away from the WTC.
The streets were filled with people – it seemed like thousands to
me. I stopped a police
officer and asked if I could continue south. The police officer told me, “Get the hell out of here.
Turn around and start walking north”.
OK – so now I am scared. I
turned around and started walking north - I don’t know how much time
passed – was it two minutes, was it five minutes?
I turned around and saw what I thought was an explosion on the
ground. I immediately thought
it was a bomb that had gone off. I,
along with thousands of others on the street, started running.
I thought to myself, “This isn’t happening”, “This is like
something out of the movies”, “You idiot – these sandals are the
most stupid shoes you could have worn today”, “Don’t fall –
you’ll be trampled”, “Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden, Osama bin
Laden”. Where did that come
from? The street was littered
with dropped items – shoes here, a bag there.
I also thought I had to keep running – that bombs were planted on
every street going north and were timed to go off.
It would be hours before I finally understood that it was the South
Tower crashing to the ground. I
realized I was running north, along the street where City Hall stood and
north of that a Federal Building. I
thought, “These are targets, head west!”.
I continued running – to where?
Where would I be safe from the bombs that were going to go off?
I continued running and finally reached my apartment building.
I stood outside the building, looking south and watched the second
tower come crashing to the ground. I
still get chills when I think of this.
I was numb with fear.
into my building. I stood
waiting for the elevator – should I get on?
Would I get stuck on the way to my fifth floor apartment?
While I waited, I burst into tears.
What had just happened? It
didn’t seem real.
into my apartment and immediately changed my clothes.
I put on running gear – shorts, running bra, running shoes. I had to be able to run.
I needed to keep running north.
I put a bottle of water, my cellphone, my Blackberry, my wallet and
a polartec pullover in my backpack. I
need to keep my backpack light so I could run.
I went and found a friend. I
needed to find someone to talk to. I
found him and we walked outside to the West Side Highway.
The streets were filled with people walking north – some were
walking “grey people” – they were covered in debris from the
buildings crashing down. I
asked my friend if we should be heading north.
More bombs were going to go off, right?
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