Charles's Personal Account of the Events of Sept. 11, 2001

Charles was much closer to the World Trade Center disaster than most New Yorkers. He was moved to write about his experiences. This is what he sent to many friends and family members.
Now that I have a clearer head and I am regaining control over my emotions (having gotten past Friday, September 21st and Saturday, September 22nd without bursting into tears. I would have made it through Sunday the 23rd too if I had not chosen to watch the memorial service from Yankee Stadium.) I cry because my whole being is consumed with such deep sorrow for all of the victims of the terrorist attack. For the victims that are here and for the ones that are no longer with us. I cry at work, on the street, but most of all I could not help but to burst into tears every time I see a Fireman or Policeman on the TV commenting on the events at the World Trade Center. For they see death, fire and destruction every day, this is their job, and they cry on TV as they tell us what is going on. Or when I pass our local firehouse, two blocks away, with hundreds of flowers, candles and the three photos of the lost firefighters of that company. It is time to share with you what I saw and experienced on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

Eric and I came back from our vacation in Scotland on Sunday, September 9th and I had taken Monday the 10th off to give myself a buffer day before returning to work. Tuesday morning started out as any other workday for most of us. I left the house on time and made way for the subway. (For those of you that don't know, I work in Jersey City NJ. The office complex that I work in is on the Hudson River right across from the World Trade Center.) I take the E train from Queens to the World Trade Center, then change for the NJ PATH train which is in the World Trade Center, and take it one stop to Exchange Place in NJ. I remember complaining to myself for the subway was backed up and that I was going to be late to work my first day back from vacation (I will never complain about subway backups again).

As the E train that I was on entered the World Trade Center, a woman in street clothes greeted the riders, in no official capacity that the other riders or I could see. She informed us that the World Trade Center was closed and that we could not enter. (The first plane had just hit the first tower a few minutes earlier, but we were not told that.) All of the riders being the bull headed, stubborn and untrusting New Yorkers that we are just keep walking forward into the World Trade Center. Once in the World Trade Center we are met by a man in street clothes and once again in no official capacity saying to us all that World Trade Center was closed and that we had to use the side exit.

The side exit lets out right across the street from the north Tower. We all made our way out of the subway. As we were walking up the stairs, the woman ahead of me lets out a scream and starts crying "Oh My God!" I could not see what she was seeing for I was not up the staircase high enough to see out. Once I could see, the first thing I saw were tens of thousands of people in the street and on the sidewalks looking up. I looked up and froze along with everyone else on the street. The north Tower of the World Trade Center was on fire and flames shooting out of it with white smoke. The fire was so intense that you could see it climbing up the building floor by floor. The polished aluminum siding on the building was flaking off due to the high heat and the sky was filled with what looked like a silver ticker tape parade. The only sound that you could hear was that of sirens from the EMS, Police and Fire trucks that were just starting to arrive. Then paper and office objects started coming out of the building. Then another woman screamed "LOOK UP" and burst into tears. Bodies started flying out of the building and then people started jumping out of the building from the floors above the fire so they would not get caught in the fire. They chose to take their own lives and jump 100 stories. I will never get this image out of my head. It was horrifying, we were transfixed with fear and helplessness for the people stuck inside the building, we could not move. I know I was standing there for 5 to 7 minutes.

Then the smoke started to turn black as the fire climbed higher up the building. Some smart man in the crowd behind me said "People this is not a safe place to be we have to get out of here." That was the wakeup call for a group of us. We started to make our way around Trinity Church and the graveyard. I was walking with my back to the Towers and made it one block east and started to cross the street to walk north when we heard a loud explosion. I thought that the building that was on fire had exploded and that the top of the building was going to come down all over us. My only thought at that time was to get out of there, and that same thought occurred to the tens of thousands of people that were in the streets for everyone started running as fast as they could and wherever they could, in the street, in front of oncoming traffic and speeding Police cars and Fire trucks. People tripping and falling, other people helping them up and running with them. Men and women crying, screaming, running and looking over their shoulders to see if parts of the building were coming down on us. Women kicking off their hi-heeled and platform shoes and leaving them behind. Women and men yelling at women that were still trying to run in their heels and platforms to take them off. Just up ahead of me a woman frozen with fear looking back at the Towers, at that moment another woman grabbed her around the waist and yelled at her "You Have To Run With Me!" And she did. I ran for about 10 blocks before I realized that nothing was coming down over us from the Towers. I stopped in an entrance of a building facing north so I would be sheltered from anything that might come down.

At this point I still did not know what really had happened. So I pulled out my pager to get in touch with my supervisor to tell him that there was a fire at the World Trade Center, that I was going to be late and that I was on my way to 33rd street to catch the other PATH train to NJ. I first had to figure out where I was and head for the nearest subway. I looked back at the Towers only to see that the second one was now on fire as well, thinking to myself how did that happen? Did the fire in the north Tower set the one in the south Tower? I went into the R train station only to find out that all subway service had been suspended in the five boroughs. Coming out of the station I received a page back from my boss saying, "Don't bother to come into work, you will never get home." So with that I made my way to Eric's office on Varick Street in the village knowing that he would be worried about me. I could not get to a pay phone to call him for there were lines of 10 plus people deep waiting to use them. Even people with cell phones were lined up as well for most of the cell phone service was not working at this point. At every intersection I crossed I looked back only to see Towers ablaze. Passing people in the street, all of them in shock, transfixed on the fire with tears in their eyes.

I arrived at Eric's office and asked the receptionist to call him and let him know that I was there. He did not pick up his phone so she left him a message. She turned to me and said he is probably on the roof watching. In the room next to the receptionist was a conference room with the TV on and I heard at that time planes had flown into the World Trade Center buildings and that it was a Terrorist Attack on the US. Then the report came about the Pentagon and the plane in Pennsylvania. It all started to make sense. Ten minutes later I watched as the first tower collapsed and started to cry and asked someone in the room “Who would do such a horrible thing to innocent people.” They just looked at me and walked out of the room. I asked the receptionist if I could use the phone to make a local call and she said, "Just dial 9 and the number." People kept walking past me coming and going into the conference room to get updates. I could not get anyone on the phone for the lines were busy. Finally I realized that I had been sitting in the reception area for 40 minutes and Eric had not shown up. I dialed his extension from the phone and he picked up. He asked me if I was all right and I said "Yes and would you please come and pick me up." He asked me where I was and I told him that I was in the reception area and I asked him if he had gotten the message from the receptionist and he said "No." He had gone through his messages only to listen to the headers to see if there was a call from me. He came down and we watched the live news coverage with some of his coworkers as the second Tower fell, all of us in disbelief. We went up to the roof of the building with Eric’s supervisor but could not see anything but black and white smoke.

I was able to make three phone calls from Eric's office, one to my friend Tessa who was the first to leave a frantic message on our answering machine asking if we were OK and to call her. We left a message on her answering machine. The next to check on my niece Samantha to see if she was all right, she was and she was at home in our place. The last to my brother and his family who completely forgot that I went that way to work, so concern for my safety was not on their minds.

About 11:00AM, Eric and I left his office for a long walk home. With all the bridges and tunnels closed, no bus or subway service we had no choice. Hoping that if we walked to the 59th Street Bridge that they would let us walk across it to Queens. We walked east and north through Manhattan. As we reach the 50s I said to Eric let's stop by Tessa's work place so she can see that we are all right but they had already closed down. We walked with thousands of other people trying to get somewhere in a city without transportation. Two plus hours later we reach the bridge and it was indeed open for pedestrians and one lane open to out bound traffic. As we crossed the bridge with hundreds of other people trying to get home to Queens and Long Island it was all very quite, very orderly. People who did not want to walk jumped onto the backs of trucks and sat on bumpers. It looked like a scene from a movie where refugees were leaving their homes. As we walked, from time to time we would all look to our right and see this void that once housed the World Trade Center and now housed nothing but large amounts of black and white smoke looming over lower Manhattan, over the east river and into Brooklyn, and the heartbreak and sorrow on everyone’s face. Once over the 59th Street Bridge they had just started up bus and subway service in Queens only. We waited in line at the 7-train station to get onto the platform. The Police were there only letting enough people onto the platform that could fit into a single train. Four groups later we were on the platform and then in a 7 train on our way home.

It was about 3:00PM when we got home. Samantha was in the living room with the TV on watching the coverage. We sat there transfixed to the TV as all Americans were. We made phone calls when we could get an open line to checkup on friends, families and loved ones to make sure all were fine and to let them know we were fine as well. Graeme, a friend of ours that lives seven blocks from us, called and wanted to come over and return our house keys from when he was feeding Leo our cat while we were on vacation. The four of us sat glued to the TV, commenting and going over the day's events. About 7:00PM I went to the kitchen, turned on the TV in there, and proceeded to make dinner for the four of us. We ate dinner with the TV on and talked and talked and went on with our “what if” scenarios and what would be next to come.

The next morning Eric did not have to go to work for his office was below 14th Street. But I could not reach my office at all for I could not get a phone line. I beeped my supervisor and asked if the office was open or closed. He replied that he had not heard anything at all. So I went into work only to find that the only employees there were the ones that could not get home after they has shut down the office at 11:00AM on Tuesday morning. Our company put them up in a hotel two blocks from here. While trying to get some work done Eric had left me a message on my work phone to say he had gotten a call from a woman by the name of Janet Falk that had found my zip disk. I looked into my backpack only to find that almost everything in the top compartment was gone. While I was running from the Towers everything must have bounced out. I called her and she said that she works downtown and had found it in the park that I ran by, opened it up and found a document titled CMKResume and got my name and address from that. I made arrangements with her to pick it up. She said she found a lot of things on her way home that day, things that people had lost or dropped but this was the only thing she picked up for she thought it was important and it was to me. Everything was on that disk - letters, documents, work projects, all our household accounts and my personal accounts, the inventory of all our possessions that I put together for the insurance company. It would have been a real hardship not to get that back. But I thanked her for her act of kindness in a letter sent to her after I picked up my disk. The next day they said it was going to rain so I went to my backpack to make sure I had my umbrella but it was gone as well.

Eric and I were very lucky that day and so was everyone we hold dear. After many days of Emails and phone calls to everyone we know we found them all to be safe and sound. The only person we know that was caught in the attack was our downstairs neighbor’s Aunt; she was on one of the flights from Boston on her way to California to visit her family.

Now that we are in the recovery phase I can see people are still a little bit more considerate to each other then they were before this happened. Everyone at work for the past two weeks will say, "Hello, how are you and is everyone you know safe." People on the street and the subways are a little bit more considerate of each other by saying excuse me or pardon me if they bump into you. Hopefully they will remember and it will stay like this. One can only hope.

Some of the things that have changed are for the better, like security in the building where I work. We must now show our ID cards when we enter the building and once we get onto the floor of the office we must use our cards to enter for all the doors are now locked. Some things have changed and are a pain in the butt, like my commute, because I can't go the way I have for years and will not be able to go that way for a year or more to come. My commute has gone from an hour and fifteen or an hour and a half to two plus hours one way, and I have to take a third train now, the NJ Light Rail for two stops.

I know my priorities have changed and are changing every day. I look at life a little bit differently. I hold my friends, family, loved ones and co-workers more dear in my heart. I am not bothered by those little annoying things that life and people throw at you (hopefully this will remain the rest of my days, but may not). I have much bigger concerns now. All of us have to redefine what we call normal and a normal life style. For the normal life and life style I had at 8:30AM Tuesday, September 11, 2001 will never be again and that will hold good and the not so good. But all of us will make it work, just as we made it work before. We must stay strong, stay together and never forget this time of togetherness, as nations must come together and stay together to fight terrorism. Right now we have the constant reminders of candles burning and melted wax on the sidewalks, American flags everywhere and daily news coverage. The hardest reminder for me right now is the sight I must endure every day I go to work, and that is the lack of buildings in the view that I loved to look at all the time from my office and on my way there. There is a void, an emptiness there now, and it still smolders, but it will not always be that way, we will renew the New York skyline with something just as special as the one that once was there. Let us all stay together, make and keep each other strong as all of you have done for me and hopefully I have done for you. Let us rid ourselves of the meaningless things that keep us apart and give support, aid and comfort where and whenever we can.

- Charles Keiser


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