Maybe a quick note from the center of the action. Sorry if this is a bit chaotic - I'm still in shock.
I work on Rector Street, about 2 blocks south of the World Trade Center, less than a minute walking. I came out of the subway at about 9:30 am, just a few minutes after the second plane had gone in. At this time I didn't know what was going on - I could only see one of the towers (they block each other out) and I saw there was a huge fire. People on the street just sort of stood and looked up. I thought it was "just" a fire, so I made my way down to where I work through a crowd of people, thinking I might be able to get some work done today after all. Papers were floating around everywhere. A lot of ashes flying around. When I made it down to my office, I found out about the 2 suicide crashes into the towers. At this point, the towers were still standing. We immediately left and ran out to get on the train. My colleague John had a walkman radio and heard that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I later found out that about 3 minutes after we entered the underground train station, the first tower collapsed.
I took the train uptown. We got stuck between 2 stations for about 1 1/2 hours. After 30 minutes, people started crying, praying out loud, preaching, screaming. The power went out for about 10 minutes - remember this is underground, so it was total darkness for a long time. I had no idea what was going on, the city might be going up in flames, I didn't know. I just tried to stay calm and breathe evenly. After 1 1/2 hours the train finally rolled into the Union Square station.
I got out of the station to a scene of chaos. People were everywhere, covered in ashes, bleeding, lying on the streets crying. When I looked south, I was so completely, totally *shocked* to not see the Twin Towers - just a cloud of smoke. I was completely confused and just started walking in a random direction. I kept trying to call my girlfriend on the cellphone, but no cellphones were working. There were lines of people at the public phones, most of them in hysterics, so I just kept walking. I passed a bar with a TV, stepped in for a second - this is where I found out that the Towers had both collapsed. I remember considering ordering a drink at this point (11 AM or so) - the whole bar was filled with people just staring ahead, drinking liquor.
I just kept walking and came up to about 35th street. I live uptown, at least 15 miles from where I was. Subways weren't running, buses were nowhere in sight, and all cabs were taken. Many of the people I passed were covered in ashes and/or blood. In the end I just walked up to a cab with 3 people already in it, knocked on the window, and asked to come along. I eventually made it up to where I live by about 2 PM. At this point I'd been able to make contact with my girlfriend and her parents, and my parents.
We have one good friend who works in the World Trade Center. We were not even sure whether he was still alive. He just gave us a call, while I was writing this, to tell his side of the story, as seen from one of the lower floors of the first building struck. The things he saw ... people jumping out of the 50th-60th floors down to the pavement close to him ... He says he can't watch the news coverage, he can't handle it.
I don't know. I am completely shocked. This is not even terrorism, it's an act of war. I keep seeing the images of the Downtown area, where I've worked for about 2 years altogether, and it's unreal. I simply can't wrap my mind around what happened today.