© Tonya Leary 11 November 2001

The morning 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 every street.

I was 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.

I walked 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.

I walked 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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