World Trade Center Escape

--By Yin Liang (yinliang@yahoo.com)

Coming to Work at the World Trade Center at 8:30AM

Hi, I am Yin, one of the tens of thousands of people who are working inside the One World Trade Center when the building was being hit by the airplane.

I am working for Lehman Brother's equities e-commerce website, we are located on the 40th Floor in One World Trade Center, every weekday morning I take the NJ Train to Newark, then take the NJ PATH to One World Trade Center, from there I walk to One World Trade center.

On the day of the WTC attack, I arrived at the World Trade Center Complex around 8:20 AM via the PATH train, reached my office in 1 WTC 40th Floor around 8:26 AM, my coworkers and quite a few other people are present at the time, such as my coworker Igor Kantor, Santosh, my neighbor John. At 8:30 AM everyday, roughly 30% of the people will show up, including most managers, the majority of the people will arrive around 9:00 AM - 9:20 AM.

The Shock at 8:46 AM

At around 8:46 AM, when I am still reading and writing emails in front of my computer, I heard a low-pitched "Bom" noise, it's not very loud, then the floors starts moving, it swings back and forth slowly, like floating in the air, then the swing gradually stopped. We are quite alarmed, I glanced outside the window, saw things are failing by, it's a strange scene. We all sensed immediate danger, after a moment of silence, people stand up and keep looking around for a clue, shouting "What happened ?", One guy starts walking fast to the fire emergency exit, we are trained in the building on how to respond to emergency situations like this, but this time there is no alarm, no siren. we all immediately started walking toward the fire emergency exits, our managers are telling everyone to leave the building immedately. I was in a hurry, not even picking up my bag. My teammates also started walking. Some people are still startled , they are still asking "What's going on ? What happened ? " We shouted back "Get out of the building NOW! ", At the time, there was no alarms, no flash lights. But we do feel something deadly wrong are happening to the building. This building sometime swings during heavy wind, but never was like this.

The Long walk down WTC

We get into the emergency stairs, I didn't see lots of people, and the building stopped shaking, we then proceed calmly down the stairs, talking to each other, trying to guess what had just happened, we behaved just like when we are having an ordinary "fire-drill", (thank GOD, we do get lots of "fire-drill" exercise once we moved to this building a half year ago). Lots of people joined us from other floors. Then we see heavy smokes coming in from the 33-34th floors, the line paused, we hesitated for a while, wandering if we should keep going down in the smoke, then we slowly moved on, I covered my mouth and nose with a piece of facial tissue, we keep talking to each other, I guess there must be a fire going on at certain floors, we kept walking down the stairs, the smoke became more and more dense , one guy carried a coffee pot full of water and also have some paper towels in it, he give the wet towels to others, I also asked him and got one wet paper towel, I used it to cover my mouth and nose again, at the time, I am thinking this man must be very calm and trained in handling emergencies, he not only carry his big backpack, also find time to go to the rest area, take the coffee pot and put the towels in it, then take the pot with him. The wet paper towel does make breathing a little bit easier, we continued walking down, fearing for the unknown. There are more and more people coming in from various floors, so the place became more crowed, we are walking down slower and slower but still very orderly and peacefully. I want to call my wife to tell her that we are in trouble and also want her to find out what had just happened, but there are no cell signals at all, so I stopped trying to call. Everyone is very curious on what just happened. Some people said it's a Boeing that hit the building, then later we got email messages via Blackberry pager informing us that a Boeing airplane just hit our building. We could not believe it, but it does make sense. We started guessing it must be some stupid navigational error made by the pilot. My one-way pager still shows no news relating to this airplane hit. On the stair, We saw one man resting on the stairs, his cloth wet, he is sweaty, wet and unable to breathe, two of his female co-workers are trying to encourage him to keep walking down, ( Later I realized they must come from the upper floors, running very fast downstairs after the plane hits). On the way down, I tried again to call my wife via cell phone , but there is still no signal at all. More and more people joined us, the place is very crowed. When we reached around the 20th floor, people in the front are shouting back, "Stay on the right side, the firefighters are coming up", so we stopped, stayed on the right side, waiting for the fireman to come by. There are around 7-8 fireman came up, every fireman are fully loaded, carrying heavy steel equipment, water pipes and gas tanks, their face is very grim and serious, they are not young. Once the firemen passed by, we resumed walking, after another 2-3 minutes, More firemen coming up, they all carry heavy steel hammer and various heavy tools. They are sweaty, their breathing is very heavy. One lady asked which floor they are going, they are heading up to the 80th floor, She told them good luck. Every time when a batch of firemen coming up, one of us will shout to let the rest know they are coming up, so we can stay on the right hand side to let the firemen pass, Some firemen are unable to keep walking due to the extreme heavy load on their back. I heard one fireman telling another to slow down and come up when he catches his breath, Their face is deadly serious and brave, with lots of perspiration.

We kept walking, on the 10th or 11th floor, a lots more people are coming into the stairs, we saw smokes coming in, the line is still very orderly,
on the 3rd or 4th floor, we see water running on the stairs, some people in front of us took their shoes off, My shoes get wet and squeaky, so I
took my shoe and sock off also, we kept walking, the movement is still very calm and orderly, once we reached the basement floor, there are more waters on the ground, more firemen are coming in, police officers are also standing near the stairs, asking every body to remain calm and walk orderly toward the building exit. We do remain very calm and orderly. The water are now almost one inch deep, they do not appear dirty, then I found out all the waters are coming from the ceiling sprinkers. I saw all the sprinklers on the basement ceiling are working, so we get pretty wet. There are lots of police officers directing us inside the world trade center basement, they asked us to walk orderly to exit the building. we reached the front gate of One World Trade Center ( where every morning I would swipe my WTC Access Card to go inside the building) are damaged, the ceilings are cracked and one piece of ceiling is down on the side already, the gates are broken apart, We pass the gate, the revolving doors are not damaged in the front are not damaged,they consists of three doors, now two door are being switched to the side, so we do not have to push the revolving door to go through it). We are now outside the One World Trade Center tower, but we are still inside the huge WTC Basement Complex.

On the way out from the stair, I also hear the walls are cracking, pieces of walls are falling on my far right side, around 40-50 feet away, there is an escalator right in front of us, during a "regular day", we normally use that escalator to go up to the street level concourse, then go through the revolving door to go outside. So naturally some people turned to take that escalator, but the police officers directed us to keep going forward, ( Later from the TV, I understand if we were using that escalator, we will be hit by the falling debris once we reached outside the tower). so we walked passed the basement hallway, on the left side, there is a big GAP store, I looked inside the store, no one is there, the I saw and realized the entire basement is empty, there is an eerie calm, a deadly silence in the basement, except the police loud speaker, I paused, put my shoe back, the socks are wet, so I put them inside my pant pocket. There are nobody except ten or twenty police personnel and streams of people coming out from the building. We walked orderly, turning right to reach another escalator, the one that is near the HSBC Bank/Borders bookstore, the police officers then asked us to start running outside as fast as we can, I realized it must be a very serious situation, so I walked faster, then starts running.
I saw there are lines of people waiting to get onto the escalator, Some of us decided to take the stairs along the escalator, we run upstairs, then one police officer, using a loud speaker, is telling us "Please walk up on Broadway, going north, please try to find a partner to stay together". I exited the building complex through the HSBC/Borders front gate, I think the time then is around 9:30 AM. Lots of police officer are directing us to go forward, pass the Church street.


Outside the World Trade Center

Once outside the building, I kept walking fast, saw lots of people are watching the building from the other side of the street, this side of the street is all blocked, lots of police cars and ambulances are around, the entire area is blocked off from the south side of Church street, I kept walking, once across the Church street, I turned back to watch the scene, I am now completely shocked, I see lots of smokes coming from the two towers, huge and dense smokes are near the top of our building, The smoke are high above our floors, I then turned and start walking toward Broadway, I tried again to call home using my Sprint PCS cell phone, but I am still unable to get a signal. I wanted to go to my friends place at Merrill Lynch at 222 Broadway, lots of people are in the streets and also in the lobby of that building , so I walked up to the reception desk and asked to see my friends, the guard phoned them, but no body is answering, I think everyone is either on the street or near the window, watching the burning towers. I then walked across the building to the other entrance on Fulton Street, still trying to locate my friends, there are many pockets of people standing on the street watching. The scene is like a bad dream, I also watched and wandered for a while, thinking what to do next, I guess there will be no way to go back to work there today, or even to pick up my stuffs today, it's better to go home and relax, I then checked my beeper, saw the data message telling us the "Attack on the Twin Towers.." I keep walking north, often turning back to see the burning scenes, the smokes are huge, lots of people are still watching. Lots of people,carrying their backpacks or suitcases, are alos waling up north on Broadway. I kept walking north, I saw one lady, she is covered in dust, her hand are wounded and her back are full of dust, there are lots of ambulance vehicles near the City Hall Park. I walked across the City Hall Park, I kept walking, lots of people are standing on the street, I reached China town,I kept trying to call home, finally, near Canal street, I got connected to my wife's work phone, I told her I am safe and OK, already outside the burning One World Trade center.

The way home

I also told my wife I am trying to go home now. She told me she got the news, it is not good. she think I should try to go to the Penn Station on 33rd street or the Bus Authority Terminal on 42 St. I decided to take the Subway to go to the 42nd St. Port Authority Bus Terminal, I found the subway in Chinatown, It is around 9:50AM, all trains going south are closed, but trains going north are OK, so I asked the ticket agent on how to go to 42nd St. she told me to take the "Q" train, I tried to find the uptown "Q" train but I can not find it, then a "W" train arrived, I asked if it goes uptown, people told us "YES", so we got inside the train, People in the train seems not aware anything just happend outside, I started checking again my beeper messages, saw the news said "Two airplane crashed into World Trade Center, ... it's an apparent attack" The train stopped at 14th street, then I decided to go to the 33rd Street Penn Station, from there I can take the NJ transit train to go to Newark.

At 10:10 AM, I arrived at the 33rd Street Penn Station, lots of people are waiting in the lobby area, I went to the ticket vending machine and brought a one-way ticket to Newark, lots of "escapee" similar to us are there, I waited in the Penn station starting around 10:20 AM, brought a drink, then I saw Mr. Zhu, one of my friends who also works for Lehman on the 38th floor in 1 WTC. We decided to go together. He told me once he feel the building shaking, he immediately feel the danger and thinking that his life is almost over and went inside the stairs right away He also take the subway to the Penn station, and waiting for a North East Corridor train to take him home, like me, he also does not have time to pick up his staff, I left my palm pilot, eye glass, car keys and books behind in the building, he also left his laptop computer in the building. He thought we might be able to go back to our office after a few days to pick up our staff back, I told him I have doubts about let us in. We waited for another 10 minutes, then the loudspeaker announces all train traffic are closed. From my pager, the news told us "Two hijacked plane crashed into the Twin tower, another airplane hit Pentagon.., All bridges and tunnels are closed ". The situation is very serious, we walked out of Penn Station, saw lots of people wandering on the street, my friend's Blackberry pager are flooded with messages, his wife send him six messages asking him to call home immediately, but there is again impossible to get a a cell phone signal, He get lots more Blackberry email messages from his teammates, asking whether he is OK, so he started the email them back, his wife kept messaging him from another Friend(Li Gang, who also works in the building)'s wife's work place.

I found a calling card in my wallet, but all pay-phones are having very long waiting line, so we decided to go inside a McDonald's restaurant to get drinks and think what to do next...

We were wandering outside the Penn Station, hoping the trains will operate again soon, Lots of people are standing or sitting near the stairs, some are standing around the cars to listen to the radio news. We went inside an electronic store to watch the TV news, I kept trying to call home again no signal came through. We asked the store clerk to let us call home using their phone, he refused in the beginning, then after heard we are just coming out of the World trade building, he immediately allowed us to use the phone, but we were again cannot get a signal, all lines are busy.

Around 2:00 PM, my cell phone ringed, my wife called me from home, I told her I am OK, and immediately asked her to call my friend, Li Gang's wife, and Zhu's wife, Lily, to tell both wives their husband are all safe, and trying to find a way home. There is no hope the train will run again soon, so we then ate a light lunch together near the Penn Station, then we decided to try the 37th St. Ferry, we walked up to the Ferry terminal on 37th Street, Lots of people are doing the same thing, but once we reached there, there are huge lines of people already waiting there, plus lots of military personnel are on the scene also, it looks like a war zone. We are then told by the police to walk down to 24th Street to take another Ferry, so we walked down, once we reached 24th St., we waited online for the Spirit Cruise boat, my friend is sending Blackberry pages to Li Gang, (he is my neighbor, working for Lehman at 38th Fl), telling him to came here. After a twenty minute wait, we abroad the "Spirit Cruise" ship, the boat are huge, once we sit down, I checked the beeper message, it now told us both towers are collapsed, one airplane crashed in ..." so any hope to go back to pick up our stuff are vanished. We saw huge smokes in the WTC area, the landmark Twin Towers are lost in the smoke.

Once we reached Weehawken, there are lots of buses waiting there, we met some other friends working in mid town. We took the bus
to Newark Penn Station, then both of us are being washed by workers in yellow uniform there, we are told it's just a precaution of toxic from the building collapse. Then we went inside the Penn station, lots of people are waiting here, there is an Amtrak, the police officer told us it will stop at
Metropark, New Brunswick, Princeton Junction, etc. so we took this Amtrak, on the train, I phoned my wife to pick me up at the
New Brunswick train station, we arrived at New Brunswick station at 4:10 PM, then around 4:20 PM, I saw my wife's vehicle,
we drive to my parking lot at the Bound Brook train station, picked up my car there, then I drive to my friend, Li Gong's house, to tell
his wife to stop worrying about him ( We got lots of blackberry pages from him, he is still in the City trying to get out). so I went back
home, take a deep shower to clean all the mess up, then start watching the TV and walking my daughter around the block to relax my self
for a hectic day of "work"

Later, Li Gang called us from his home, he is also safe and sound.

After thoughts

I cannot forget those firefighters, some of them young, some of them old, some of them retired and were called back for their duties because of their skills in saving lifes, I can not forget the calm in their eyes, their fearless spirits and the total dedication to their duty. They sacrificed their life in order to save others. At the last moment of their life, they became the living saints. They are the true heroes in this tragedy.

For the People who committed this act of terror

I am deeply saddened by this act of terror and madness, no true religion will teach you to blindly kill other innocent people. You see the world differently, you use your own perception of reality to justify the mistakes -- your anger, your ancient hatred, your impulse to attack, your lack of love, you must see a world full of evil, destruction, malice, injustice, envy and despair. All this you will have to learn to forgive, not because you are being "good" and being "charitable", but because what you see is not true. You have distorted the world by your twisted defenses, justify your mistakes by false perception and there for seeing what is not there. Your lack of love and gentleness caused the mass sufferings of the innocent people, is that what GOD teachs you to do ? Do you regret your mistakes ? Are you willing to stop the insane acts of violence once for all ? If you believe in GOD, are you willing to unlearn your mistakes ?

For You, the reader

What if today is your last day on this earth ? Some people always assume death is very far away, but the shadow of death can strike you at any time, it can strike you when you are in the elevator,or in the subway, or in an airplane, when you are working in your cubicle, or while you are watching news, or reading this article. Are you afraid of death ? or are you prepared for it ? Life is a precious gift from God, it can be taken away easily. Do you want to choose to spend as much time with GOD as possible ? One can easily wander off in their life, or one can also easily give GOD only an instant and in that instant, devote and join with him completely. If you believe in GOD, then no death can bring your spirit and your soul down, You will have a Guide that never Fails.

Darkness will pass, I hope love and peace and God's glory will again shine on this earth,

May GOD bless you and make your spirit soar !


--Yin Liang (yinliang@yahoo.com)





Here are photos I took after the event. Click Here to view the entire albums stored on ofoto.com