A Survivor's Story

My name is Roz; I am a mother of one.  I work for Silverstein Properties, Inc., the owner of several buildings in New York City, including The World Trade Center (WTC).  Today is September 29, 2001, I feel normal, but I sometimes wonder if I am truly okay.  I haven’t had any nightmares since the attack; I sleep and eat well, and am able to function in my normal way each day.  Some people tell me that I am not okay, and that it will affect me later.  Everyday I go into work; I know they are watching me to see if I break down, again I assure them, that I am fine.  Afraid like everyone else? Certainly.  But I am taking it one day-at-a-time.  My experience was grim, and something I hope never to experience again.  I sometimes wonder why I was chosen to have this experience, but I ask God to help me through this and protect my daughter and me from evil.  I believe in my heart that He protects us each day, especially this day.  Here’s my story:

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, began for me as any other day would.  I dropped my daughter, Amanda, off at school around 8:05 am.  It was Amanda’s fifth day at “big” school (as she refers to it), and it was still uncomfortable for her to let go, so I would make her separate from me outside the school instead of taking her inside, because she was afraid, and taking her in would not help matters.  When we separated that morning, I remember a need filled me to see and watch her go upstairs with her classmates.  So I ran to the other entrance door and snuck into the school to see her.  Of course she did not know this because I hid.  I watched her play and talk with her classmate, as they formed a line to follow the teacher to the breakfast room.  I stood there and watched as they filed out, until I could no longer see her.  I thought about why I had done that, had no answer, and proceeded to the subway, approximately 8:20 a.m.

As I boarded the “E” train to Chambers Street there was nothing unusual.  It takes 10 minutes to ride from Port Authority Station to Chambers Street Station, then another 5-7 minutes to walk from Chambers Street Station to the lobby of One WTC, and approximately 5-7 minutes to arrive on the 88th floor.  It’s now approximately between 8:42 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.  It was my second day back from vacation.  As I enter, I see Sylvia who sits on the north side of Tower One with me, so I stopped to say hello.  As we engage in small talk, it is literally about 2-3 minutes later; an explosion of great magnitude blew off the entrance door through which I had just previously walked.  It knocked us both down in her cubicle.  Sylvia tries to get up, because she is confused, and wants to see what is happening.  I reached up and grab her clothes or hand (I’m not sure which), to pull her back down.  Suddenly it calms.  Everyone on the north side gathers.  The room is now gray and dusty, dimly lit—most of the lights are destroyed.  We gather to make sure everyone from our side is with us and okay, we turned to get the others, and we see Elaine walking toward us, her arms are spread, and she’s walking mummy-like.  As she nears, we see that she is badly burned, from head to toe, her clothes are completely shredded around her, someone lets out a loud gasp, another takes his coat off and wraps it around Elaine, no words are being exchanged at the moment.

We walk over to the south side to gather more individuals; they are walking toward us.  I see John Griffin, you cannot miss him, since he is 6’6” in height. He is passing out wet tissues for us to place over our noses.  By the time everyone gathers, we are about 30 in number.  We try to find an exit, but we are not sure where to go, it’s now about five minutes later.  I took this opportunity to call my headquarters, Silverstein Properties.  I got Janet on the line, I say “Jan, we just had an explosion, tell Mr. Silverstein to get us out of here!” Janet tells me a plane hit the building, and asks me to hold the line.  I say, “HOLD?!”  I disconnect the line and yelled that a plane hit the building.  By this time some are on their radios finding out what had happened, or how to proceed.  I am beginning to feel panicked because they are taking too long to make a decision as to which direction to go out.

Finally, we exit where the explosion blew off the door.  There is glass everywhere, so we have to be very careful as we proceed and approach stairwell “B.”  Fortunately, the lights are intact, but there is water gushing down so we must be careful and hold on.  As we descend, everyone is amazingly calm; some are holding each other’s hand when necessary.  Sometimes people are crying, so you look up and let them know it’s going to be okay.  As we come halfway into the forties, some can no longer go, the trek is too long; some are tired, old, asthmatic or over-weight.  They opt to sit and wait.  I look at them and keep going.  The stairwell begins to get backed-up -- too many people coming from other offices.  Our group decides to head over to stairwell “C”.  The door to exit stairwell “B” is locked.  We now must go back up one flight of stairs and that door is unlocked, Thank God.  As we descend stairwell “C”, we see the firemen coming up in their heavy uniforms carrying oxygen tanks and other equipment.  They ask us to stand on the right of the steps to allow them through, we oblige.

We can start walking again, and we come upon a stairwell landing where someone has left bottled water, we pick them up, but as more firemen come we give it to them figuring they need it more.  They thank us, they stop to drink the water, and some of them are sharing the water with their comrades, I just stare at them, one is Irish with blue eyes, one is Black, and he’s talking to the others saying they still have a way to go, the other is Italian, his eyes are big and sad, and his skin is olive, he looks to be in his late 20s early 30s, and he looks afraid.  There were others, but these three stand out in my mind.  They thank us for the water, and tell us to put our shoes on when we get to the Mezzanine.

After a while, my thighs are trembling, and we still have some ways to go, we’re now on the 23rd floor.  All the while, I’m talking to God.  I keep saying “Dear God, I know that this is not the way you want me—not like this.”  For some strange reason, it did not feel right—it wasn’t my day.  A gentleman holds my hand.  I never got his name.  I say thank you to him.  Slowly, we get to the 10th floor, and we start to laugh because the single numbers are coming and we’re almost there.  It’s close to one hour later that it took to walk down those stairs.

Never in a million years did I expect what I saw next.  When we came through the mezzanine, the Port Authority Police were standing side by side, in a row to guide us how to walk out, but quite a few feet apart from each other doing their best to shield us from the atrocity that lay behind them.  The mezzanine is constructed with floor to ceiling glass walls.  Behind those walls, I see a body (man or woman, I don’t know) with part of the right side of the cheek blown off.  A few feet away, I see a man’s legs, but there’s no torso, I see intestines just lying there bunched together.  I put my hands to my mouth, and I knew my eyes were bulging.  An officer yells not to look over there, but you cannot help it.

We are led down to the retail section of WTC.  There is water everywhere.  We finally exit the WTC on Vesey Street.  Sylvia meets up with me.  She yells to me, Roz, look back.  As I do so, I see both towers on fire at the top.  I turn around to go to another one of my company’s buildings to make a call, to let them know that I am okay.  As I approach Nassau Street, chaos is around me.  Everyone is screaming all of a sudden, when I look back, 2 WTC is falling, and the force is pushing the debris through any space it can find.  I kick my shoes off and start to run.  I have to get to my daughter, and I do not know how I’m going to get to her.  I run as far as South Street Seaport.  I see a lady in a car, and she’s smiling.  I walk over to her car and say, “Mamma, my name is Roz, I have no shoes or money to pay you, but I have to get to my daughter, she goes to school in Midtown.  Can you please help me?”  She tells me to get in.  Her name is Isolene, she works at the UN, and she too is on her way to pick up her daughter.  She takes me to her home, by the FDR Drive, and gives me shoes.  I went to the bathroom, and just dropped to my knees and asked God’s forgiveness.  I was so afraid.  When I came from the bathroom, I noticed a map on Isolene’s wall, a map of Barbados.  I ask “Are you from Barbados?”  She says “yes.”  I say “Me too.”  Isolene then takes me to get my daughter.  By the time I reach her school, my sister is already there, but I did not see her.  I start to cry in the Principal’s office, as I ask them to release my daughter from school today, Andrea sees me, and screams my name, as we embrace.  The principal is looking at us as if we’re nuts.  But I felt she understood.

We got Amanda, and I headed to my Headquarters to let them see and know that I was okay.  When I arrived, Mr. Silverstein was visibly shaken.  I say, “Mr. Silverstein, are you okay, he said he was, but I know he felt seven thousand times worse than I did.  I leave the building to head home.  My sister, her friend June, Amanda and I headed to the 59th Street Bridge.  I don’t know how I walked over that bridge after walking down 88 flights of stairs, but I knew God was with me.

I carried Amanda most of the way, because she was incapable of walking for such a long period of time.  The shoes Isolene gave me were very comfortable and that helped to ease some of the pressure.  Never was I so happy to see that sign that reads “Welcome to Queens, Mayor is Rudolph Guiliani.”  I was so tired when I arrived home.  I had not eaten or drank anything all day, and yet I was not thirsty or hungry.  Maybe just shock.  When I arrived home, my Grandmother was waiting for me, as well as some of my neighbors.  They all hugged and kissed me.  I received so many calls and well wishes from folks in Barbados, New York, Florida, Georgia, Virginia and England.  I did not realize how many people cared about Amanda and me, until that day.  But above all, I must say a heartwarming and sincere thank you to Queens Regular Baptist Church, for being there for Amanda and me, in so many ways, and for allowing me to share my story.  By being able to talk about it, or expressing it in some way, helps in allowing me to face the next day, even though I am afraid.

Please pray for:

Elaine (worked for Port Authority) is in critical condition at Cornell University Hospital in New York City.  She has had one painful skin graft to date.  It will take a long time for Elaine to recover.  I pray for Elaine, and ask for your prayers as well.

MISSING

John Griffin (Silverstein Properties, Inc.) has not been found.  Memorial Service has been held for John.  Please prayer for John’s family, and his two young children.

Charlie McGee (Silverstein Properties, Inc.) has not been found. Memorial Service has been held for Charlie.  Please prayer for Charlie’s family.

Jim Corrigan (Silverstein Properties, Inc.) has not been found. Memorial Service has been held for Jim.  Please prayer for Jim’s family.

John O’Neill (Silverstein Properties, Inc.)  John has been found.  Funeral Services have been held for John.  John worked for the FBI, and was hired by Silverstein Properties, Inc. as Head of Security.  He has been tracking Osama Bin Laden since the first attack on the WTC.  He knew Osama Bin Laden would not give up on WTC, and he was making every effort possible to make changes in the WTC to prevent such an event.  Unfortunately, time was not on our side, since we had just acquired The World Trade Center in the summer.  Please pray for his family, along with the nearly 7,000 lives lost

 

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