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Surviving the Terror
Penelope Trunk happened to be on the scene to witness the horrific events. Here's her story.
By Penelope TrunkSeptember 13, 2001
I was one who wanted a better look. I wanted to get closer. And the price I paid was leaving my shoes in the middle of a pile of suffocating bodies. At the Wall Street train stop, people were covered with papers. A plane crash. That's what everyone said. Then a boom. Everyone ran. I ran to my office a few blocks away and called my brother in the Midwest.

I wanted to be closer. At the corner of Church and Broadway, I angled my way through a large, packed crowd to get the best view. We talked about people jumping. The police stood behind the yellow tape. Minutes later, there was a boom. I thought it was a bomb, so I crouched, but people ran, so I ran. I couldn't see anything. I don't know how far I ran. Couldn't see where I was running. Didn't know if I was in a street or next to a building. Didn't know what street I was on. No one could talk because the dust filled our throats. After about 10 steps I tripped over a pile of people and then people tripped on me.

I lay there. The only sound was the falling of dust and debris. No one moved under me. The weight of people on top of me got heavier. I couldn't breathe. I knew we were all going to die in that pile. I pulled myself out of the pile. My slip-ons slipped off. I stood up and saw nothing. Not even an inch in front of me. I put my hands out and felt for something. I bumped into the brick side of a building. I bumped into milk crates. I stopped. I had no idea what to do, and I knew everyone around me was suffocating. I thought about my mom and dad -- they would be so sad to hear that I died. I thought about my husband. Just married and I will not get to live my life with him. I thought about my brothers. They would cry. I told myself to just keep trying to find a way to air, but I didn't believe I would live.

The latest news, as well as timelines, commentaries, maps, video and audio reports, and emergency contacts, can be found at CNN.com, ABCNews.com, AOL, and Yahoo. Each of these websites also features eyewitness accounts, as do Salon.com, Time.com, People.com, and the Village Voice. For more information

I bumped into something that I could feel the top of, so I lifted myself up. I worried I was going into the back of a dump truck, and I was scared I'd be trapped. I didn't know if there was fire, or a bomb. I didn't know how to protect myself -- find air. Go up? I didn't know for sure that a dump truck would be bad. I think it was scaffolding. I think I jumped over piles of bodies by climbing scaffolding.

I pulled myself into a building. What building? I don't know. And I took a breath. I took two breaths. I was sure the building would be bombed. I looked for stairs. I kept thinking I needed clean air. I found a bathroom. I didn't realize I wanted water until it was there. Four men inside. Two fighting over the faucet. I shared the toilet with another man. We drank almost the whole bowl.

Once the four of us were calmed by water and air, we ventured outside the bathroom. We walked up stairs. Slowly. We checked doors behind us, left them all open. We got up only one floor. We waited. I cried. They shared one can of apple juice.

The intercom in the building announced, "Stay where you are." I was so relieved to know that people knew we were there. The intercom announced again and I thought another bomb would go off and I'd die. I cried. The guy with the apple juice put his arm around me. I wondered why no one else cried. The intercom told us to go down the stairs. I picked up a wastebasket: I planned to fill it with water. Planned to use it to shelter myself from the next bomb. (I still had no idea that the building collapsed.)

In the lobby of the building, someone gave me a Nantucket Nectar and told me to vomit. I walked outside the building with the drink in my wastebasket. There was no one around. White everywhere. The four of us had nowhere to go. I couldn't remember where I was. I walked toward the water. Police directed everyone north. I asked a woman next to me, "Where are we going?" She said, "I don't know." She had no dust. She looked so steady. I followed her. This was the beginning of her long protection.

She said, "You can walk home with me. You need a shower." I coughed. She asked why I was carrying a wastebasket. I said, "In case there's another bomb." She held onto my arm as we made our way next to the river. In Chinatown, she bought me shoes. At the Bowery we finally found a pay phone that didn't have a line of people. So she called her husband and I sat down next to my wastebasket. It was the first time I sat down, and I started crying.

We resumed walking. Sometimes we ran. I made sure to keep up and I didn't tell, my protector, Teresa, that I was worried that I would faint. I drank Nantucket Nectar every time I got dizzy.

At 59th Street a plane went overhead and I screamed. In front of Bloomingdale's. There was no one there from Wall Street I knew I looked crazy. I screamed anyway. I reminded everyone there were no planes allowed to fly. Someone said, "It's the Army." I came out from under my wastebasket and kept walking. Teresa's apartment was at 71st on the Upper West Side. Where everyone looked fine.

In the shower, dripping debris down my body, I remembered one more moment under the rubble. When I couldn't breathe. When I couldn't see. In the middle of the dead quiet was a voice. He said, "Is there anyone here? Can someone hold my hand?" I reached out to the voice and held his hand. It was shaking and the skin was old. I squeezed and then I let go.


More links and resources related to the attack

  • Financial Coverage: Bloomberg, CNET, and Fortune zero in on the financial impact of the tragedy as does Fortune columnist Andy Serwer in his Street Life column.
  • News Coverage: At CNN's website, you'll find links to newspaper coverage around the country, including the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. The renowned research site Lexis-Nexis offers an extensive free resource package, "Attack on America in Context," which has content from its archives of news, legal, legislative, and business information.
  • Military Analysis: If you're interested in a military analysis, go to Jane's Information Group, while the Terrorism Research Center is a one-stop resource for information on terrorist groups and activities.
  • Government Reaction: WhiteHouse.gov has White House news, including the president's statements and press briefings, while DefenseLink, the website of the Department of Defense, has DOD updates, Pentagon news, and American forces news. The FBI, which has listed Osama bin Laden as among its 10 most wanted fugitives, has a toll-free number (866-483-5137) for people to call with information regarding the incidents in New York and Washington, D.C., and links to an online hotline where you can report terrorist activities. For other government offices, go to FirstGov.
  • Speeches: At the Speech & Transcript Center, there are audio, video, and text links to press briefings, news conferences, and interviews with international, national, and local leaders, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani.
  • World Trade Center: If you're looking for details about businesses located at the World Trade Center, the Washington Post lists the occupants of Towers 1 and 2, Fortune.com has links to the top 10 tenants, and and the Wall Street Journal has compiled a list of former building tenants that details the whereabouts of each firm's employees and its personnel losses.
  • Airline Details: American Airlines and United Airlines have posted the passenger lists from the hijacked flights, as well as information for the families of victims. Their websites also instruct passengers about current flight plans. At CNN.com you can read about the operating status of major U.S. airports and airlines. At the Federal Aviation Administration's website, read its Sept. 14 update, which includes certified airports and frequently asked questions about commercial flights.
  • How to Help: Find out how to donate blood or make cash donations for disaster relief.


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Today at Business 2.0
Read More of Day of Infamy - all previous
September 14, 2001 - What Comes Next?
September 14, 2001 - Gauging the U.S. Economy
September 13, 2001 - Point, Click, Donate
September 12, 2001 - Are You All Right?


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