September 11, 2001 My Recollection
The morning of September 11 started out like any other morning. The train was on time, the path train was crowded. It was a beautiful, sunny fall day. I went to the deli across the street for a bagel before going up to the 103rd floor to start my day. I was running the casualty marketing meeting at 9:30 and wanted to make sure I had enough copies of my handouts.
At 8:48AM, I heard a very loud noise as if a jet went supersonic over the river. Being so high, we were used to planes flying below us. But then, within seconds, it got incredibly hot. I looked out my window which faced Jersey and saw a huge fireball coming up at me. I remember thinking the air conditioning generator must have exploded and that I'd better move before it blew out my window.
I grabbed my purse and started running and yelling "Fire! Fire!" (this I only slightly remember but people told me it got them moving) and heard Mike Sambrano and Adam Larson doing the same. I ran into Karen and we went to the stairs and walked down to 78. Cecelia Benavente was in front of me and was wearing those flippy sandals so popular this year. I made her stop at a landing and take them off because we were slowing down.
We got down to 78 and waited for a few minutes while we decided what to do. 78 was very crowded by this time but still reasonable calm. I thought I heard something (which could have been an announcement advising building 2 was secure and to return to your offices!) and starting shushing people. One of our IT guys told us to calm down and not to panic. I recall seeing Rich Gabrielle & hearing Judy Wein.
At that point, an elevator opened up and I ran in and made sure Karen and Cecelia were in as well. Hon Fong and Frank Ragolia were also on the elevator. We got to the lobby and a cop was directing us to the mall and wouldn't let us out on Liberty. We walked through the mall and went out on Broadway near Sam Goody. Once outside, there was debris falling and papers all over the street and we were told to keep walking. I don't know which way Cecelia went. I tried to call Jack but cell phones weren't working so we decided to go to Karen's sister's office to make phone calls. As we crossed Broadway, some guy said "I saw a missile hit the tower!" I told him he was a moron and we kept walking. All of a sudden, we heard the same loud noise we had heard upstairs which now sounded like a big explosion and people started screaming and running.
We got to Arlene's office (Karen's sister) on Water Street and they were hysterical and listening to the radio. That's when we found out what happened. We sat there for a while and then heard about the Pentagon. It started to sink in. I couldn't get through to Jack's cell phone and finally thought to call him at work. He wanted to come in and get me but all the bridges and tunnels were already closed. I got in touch with everyone else and then decided to get to my dad's office in midtown.
We then got evacuated from that building but luckily we were only on the 10th floor. Karen was now pretty hysterical especially when the lights went out in the stairway. I remember calling out the number of stairs for the people behind me. We all walked down to the Seaport to regroup. By now there was a lot of ash and soot in the air and some people were completely covered in dust. We ducked into a sunglasses store to clear our lungs and then decided to move. We started walking up and I left them to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge while I walked into midtown.
Somewhere in the 20s I was finally able to get back in touch with Jack, who went home and he completely freaked out. I got annoyed and asked him what his problem was and he said "I didn't know how close you were to the area when they collapsed' I said "They WHAT!!!!!" I didn't know!
Now, it was like being in a B movie "Escape from Downtown NY". I hitched a ride for a few blocks with a group that did not know each other. The driver was just being a Good Samaritan and picked up anyone who asked.
I walked past Channel 11 news and got interviewed. I quit my job on TV! I saw a number of people covered in soot and ash but even though I was in the throes of it and wearing a black top, I was not which was very odd.
I got to Dad's office and that's when it became even more real. There was nothing open except for bars, delis and McDonalds. We started watching the news on a fuzzy TV because all the other stations were out.
We hung out there for a while because there was nowhere to go and listened for anything to reopen. They finally opened the ferry to Weehawken and Hoboken but said there were 6 hour delays because that was the only alternative.
Around 4 PM, we finally decided to make our way to the ferry but stopped at a bar for a drink first. It was jammed with people and the TVs were both showing everything that had happened.
Around 5 we got to the ferry and there was about a 20 minute wait. We got on the ferry and could see the smoke from downtown. It was eerie. In Hoboken, they made us go through a shower for asbestos. Luckily, the trains were running so I got on my normal train and went home. Jack & Melissa were there and Jack just hugged me for a long time. The phone rang well into the night and I finally collapsed from exhaustion but couldn't sleep and had weird dreams.
The next morning, I woke up and my legs were absolutely killing me. I decided to go to the deli but decided once I was out to go shopping instead. It was the most normal thing I could think to do. At the A&P, which was very full for a Wednesday morning, it was all people were talking about. I kept trying to avoid conversations because I didn't want to hear about it. At the deli counter, though, two women were talking about one of them having a gall bladder operation. I nearly screamed at them "Do you know what happened yesterday?? Who cares about your gall bladder!!" but decided not to. When I got home, Jack came running outside like something was wrong. I asked and he said he was worried because I only went to the deli but had been gone an hour. He then asked if I was alright. I finally cried on his shoulder. He told me he was glad I cried because I was obviously in shock.
Later in the day, after watching the attack over and over, I logged on to aon.com to see if anyone had any ideas what was going on. I had already called the 800 number posted on the news to advise that I was OK and so were Hon, Frank and Karen. I felt guilty because I didn't know where Cecelia went and prayed she was OK.. Aon already had information posted on the website and someone started a message board on Yahoo for employees. It was a great connection and as more people logged on, you started to know more people were OK or not. There were people posting messages at all hours. I guess no one else could sleep, either.
That night, we received a very strange phone call at around ll:30 which I answered. The caller expressed surprise and relief to hear it was me. He said his name was Boyd Harden and he was a rescue worker working at Ground Zero and that he had found my briefcase. I was stunned. So was he when he asked where I dropped it and I told him I hadn't dropped it, it was at my desk on 103. For proof that it was mine, he called the number on my resume which was in the side pocket but he also said there was a wedding invitation (Dad & Lisa) and Pop-Tarts in the case. The Pop-Tarts were the key. He said he would mail it to me.
On Thursday, I made my rounds to the family to prove I was OK. I had called everyone from Arlene's office but they needed proof. Then went home and logged on to see what was going on. I couldn't get through to anyone in NYC on the phone so the net became vital to us all.
I also called all of my clients to let them know I was OK and tell them there was a number for them to call if they needed anything. Most of them had also logged on to aon.com and were just happy to hear from me.
The rest of that day and the next were spent online or on the phone or watching the news. The cartoon network resumed programming and that became the only thing I watched. There are only so many times you can see your building being destroyed.
Nancy from the Japan group posted a message that a bunch of them were starting to start operations again from the Lyndhurst office. Parsippany was already full. I decided to go to Lyndhurst to see if I could get set up in order to start getting back to normal. They were very helpful and set me up in a cubicle with a phone to settle.
Sometime the next week, we were advised to pick up our laptops so that we could really start getting back to work if we wanted to. By this time, I was antsy sitting at home and waiting for news on people.
We had a memorial service on September 24 by which time we had an idea of those who were missing, including 8 from our department. In total, there were 176 Aon employees and a few others who were in the offices at the time. I feel the absence of them all but most especially the ones in my department with whom I worked very closely.
We set up operations in midtown at 44th and 3rd and will be here for an undetermined amount of time. We are now taking things day by day and a number of us are in therapy. I have become obsessed with keeping a record for the future. I have newspapers, magazines, my briefcase, my WTC ID, Aon's missing list and all the pins and buttons that we have received.
Since then, things have been surreal. It feels as if some of these people have simply been away since there was no body to bury. I went to a total of 32 memorial services. We were all making choices about which memorials we were going to attend since there were so many in a short period of time, Nobody should have to make decisions like that. I went to 3 in one day. We were all numb but trying to be strong for the families.