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Eyewitness Report - Escape From Manhattan

NOTE: The following report is written by Miles Thompson a Kiwi expat who works in downtown Manhattan for New Zealand web development company Cyberelves. This is his story of what it was like to be working in the disaster zone around the World Trade Center, and of his escape from Manhattan. Photos will follow shortly.


It all seemed amazingly innocent at first.

What actually happened was that I looked out the window of our office on Wall St (about two blocks down and east from the WTC) and saw what looked like a ticker tape parade - hundreds of tiny pieces of paper, floating down out of the sky.

Seemed like an odd stunt for some PR company to play, and also the paper looked like trash, and some of it was burnt.

At that point we started to realise that something was very wrong.

We tried looking on the Internet, but the connection was not working at first (it was restored very soon afterward).

About then, we heard the second loud bang as the second plane impacted. Our client arrived for our 9AM meeting and we realised what had happened.

I wrote down my impressions at that time.. " a boom .. like maybe a train in the subway doing something very odd, or maybe thunder. "

This was about 9:10 am. After some discussion about whether to have the meeting or not we decided that we would instead go out and have a look.

We went and stood and looked at the horrific site - fortunately some distance away from the WTC. Not because of any sense of danger - the world trade towers are so big its always best to get a wee distance ...

>>>breaking news<<< As i write this we know that tower number 7 (much shorter than the main two) is on the verge of collapse - and looking out we see that the billowing cloud of smoke has changed colour again to white, so i guess we have lost number 7 as well. (you can see the photo of white smoke out of our window here in Brooklyn) >>>breaking news<<<

Most people were as you would expect, horrified, shocked and mostly sad. All across the pavement at this time there was a lot of charred paper, and reports, kids photos, charred brochures.

I saw one person pick up a photo of some kids and say 'wow, sick' (and keep the paper). But mostly people were very good and generally quiet. At that point we kinda figured that was gonna be everything, and for some reason headed back to work.

So, we were sitting in the middle of this meeting with the client and the whole building shook, *a lot* and a kinda 'whump'. At this point I looked across the table and said..' " uhh what the f**k was that ?"

Looking out the window, we saw huge billows of smoke coming out of the subway station, and people running down Wall St. At first we thought that there was a bomb on the subway, but then we saw a large cloud of smoke and dust (or something) rolling down Wall St, at some speed.

I learned from a (newly found) friend that I met on the Brooklyn bridge later on, that this was the only moment of real panic. As the first building collapsed, the sky went black as night and people ran in fear all the way to the river. Mostly however, throughout the day, New Yorkers have been very calm and orderly.

We met people on the bridge that had come out of the World Trade centre from the 55th floor and they were just fine. This gives me some hope. In fact there was a good hour between 8:48 am (when the first plane hit) and 10:05 (when the first building collapsed). So while there are no statistics for casualties at this point I believe that a very large percentage of the 10,000 or so people in the WTC would have been evacuated before the collapse.

Anyway, at this point we went along the corridor to another office that had TV news, and learned of the Pentagon plane, the car bomb at the State Department in Washington, and what at this point were apparently five more planes that were hijacked and in the air.

We were not sure whether to evacuate or stay inside the building. The smoke and dust outside was starting to clear and we contemplated evacuation when seeing the second building starting to lean over, we decided.. shit this is time to get out of here!! We were worried that the building might fall on us, and it seemed that Wall St might also be a target, so we stayed away from the window.

At this point my fellow worker was on the phone (all cell phones had stopped working) so I took the opportunity to stick our web cam out the window.

It is still there now, somewhat covered in dust, and you may be able to see the picture at : http://formtext.org (Note: since publishing this story it appears the web server there is being overloaded, or broken.)

With the collapse of the second building, exit was no longer an option.

Firefighters and police were apparently coming *in* to our building to catch their breath. The dust was definitely starting to get a bit thick in the air, we worried whether we would be able to breathe.

So in the end we waited, and finally we evacuated, taking my gym shirt for breathing through and a lot of water bottles from our stash (for giving to other people).

The whole bottom part of the island looked like a war zone by this stage, covered in a thick layer of dust, and bits of paper.

(continuing….)

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