September 11, 2001

We had just dropped our kids (ages 8 and 10) off at their school, PS 234, 2 blocks north of the trade center. My wife, Paula, and I were walking on Warren St towards West Broadway, when we saw the first plane hit. It was surreal. We see so many movies being filmed in NY that at first we had the reaction of "how can they get permission to do that?" Then it stuck us that "this is real!" After staring dumbfounded at the hole and fire in the WTC, we decided to go back to school to check on the kids. We were walking into the school when the second plane hit. To us, it looked like a secondary explosion to the first crash, with a fire ball COMING RIGHT AT US. We've now seen on TV pictures of a jet engine on Murray St at West Broadway, which is a little over a block from where we were, and which must have come from that second hit.

Since we could not see the second plane, we still thought it was an accident, and we just wanted to get the kids out of school and out of danger. We went into the school and the principal announced that any parents at school should take their kids home, so we got our kids.

We then walked home to Gateway Plaza, which is in Battery Park City, right across from the World Trade Center. As we got closer to the WTC and could see both towers, we realized there had been a second plane, and that this was no accident. At one point, my 8 year old son, Liam, looked up and said, "Daddy, Look, they're jumping out the windows!" At first, I said, "no, that's just debris," and then I realized Liam was right. I didn't say anything more to that. He kept asking, "are the buildings going to fall?" And, once again incorrectly, I said, "no, there's just a big fire."

When we got to our building (we live on the 32nd floor), I went in despite evacuation orders, to get our dog, Sephe (100 pound German Shepherd). I also grabbed Paula's camera. Paula and the kids waited downstairs.

Downstairs again, we just looked up across the street at the trade center from our courtyard, taking pictures, talking to neighbors in disbelief. The security guards told us we had to get to the river and to cut through the back of our complex to get there. As we were easing ourselves back, looking up at the trade center, IT BLEW UP! I thought, "should we duck into the building? should we run for the river?" We ran toward the river through the back our complex, hoping to escape. I had Liam's hand, Paula had our daughter, Kiera, and the dog. As we were almost at the river, I looked back and this black, fiery avalanche was heading straight at us. It was like an Indiana Jones movie, except I knew we couldn't outrun this thing. I tried to get the kids and Paula to the ground, thinking of those nuclear war drills from childhood (and how hopeless the drills' instructions had been).

I thought, "this is it - the fire will be here in a second, there won't be oxygen to breathe," when it hit. TOTAL BLACKNESS. We couldn't see anything, our hands, our kids, the dog, each other - nothing. I held tight to Liam. Paula called out, "where are you! where's Liam!" I just reached out my hand and found Paula, and we all just held tight there. BUT NO FIRE, NO POISON GAS. Just dust, debris, junk, total blackness. I told the kids, "stay down, we'll be able to see in a few minutes, and we'll get out of here." Sure enough, a few minutes later, we could see each other and maybe 10 feet beyond. We groped to the river railing and headed south. We couldn't head north without going towards the trade center to get around the boat marina. (The picture above is the only one on this site that I did not take. It shows the envelopment of our apartment complex as the second tower fell. The black avalanche shown here was similar to the larger avalanche which enveloped us.)

We just kept walking. After about 200 yards, volunteers were handing out face masks to kids, which they must have gotten from a nearby construction site. By the time we got to Battery Park, the second tower went and we saw another black cloud coming at us. We just kept heading south because there was no place else to go, finally making it to the American Park Cafe, where we took shelter under some umbrellas at the restaurant for about an hour, while stuff kept raining down.

Finally, a NY Waterway ferry pulled up by the shore and the crew urged as many who could get on board to evacuate. We went, kids, dog and all. They took us to the Colgate construction site in Jersey City, where a triage center had been set up. We got food, water, drinks and access to some working phones. We called our friend Chris in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, who offered to pick us up, but there was no way for her to get to us, with the closed roads. We were then bused to the Jersey City Medical Center for oxygen and a look-over. They let the dog into to the emergency center set up in the hospital, where we ran into a lot of neighbors (and other dogs) from Gateway, with stories similar to ours. We were pronounced fit and added to the official survivor list. We then looked for ways to get out of there.

Hospital employees were volunteering to help in any way they could. Eventually the wife of one of the hospital people drove us the roughly 15 miles to Cedar Grove, where we stayed for the next week. We're thankful we got through everything together, essentially unharmed physically.

I told the kids a few days later that they now know that they can handle anything that life can throw at them. Nothing can be scarier than what they faced on Tuesday, and they were brave and came through it fine. To which my daughter asked, "What about if an asteroid crashed into the earth?" I said, "Well, maybe that would be scarier, but nothing else ever would be."

After over three months out of our home - staying at temporary housing, moving from New Jersey to Greenwich Village and finally to Chelsea - we were able to move back to Battery Park City on December 20, just in time to spend Christmas at home. Our kids finally moved back to their school on February 4. Before that, they and their teachers and classmates were first relocated to PS41 in the Village, and then to an abandoned Catholic school building on W 13th Street.

The kids appreciate the attention and good will shown them and their school - Cameron Diaz paid a tribute to PS 234 on the big telethon in September, Laura Bush visited the temporary school on September 25, and President Bush sent a letter to the kids at school in December - but they would prefer to be back home and back in their own school. Or, as Kiera said recently, "I wish it was like it was before."

Don't we all.

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