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Eyewitness recounts horror

BY DANA LAWSON –
MONTCLAIR CORPS, N.J.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, my day started as any other day.

My routine was to take a 7:26 a.m. train to Hoboken, New Jersey and then a Path train (or subway) to the World Trade Center (WTC) where I worked in the North Tower on the 51st floor.

Normally, I would have arrived at my desk at 8:30 a.m.

My husband and I attend the Montclair Citadel Corps and are in the band. Because band practice is held on Tuesday evenings, we had made arrangements to meet in Montclair for dinner and then to attend practice and go home together. Because of these plans, I changed my routine slightly and took a 7:58 a.m. train that would have allowed me to arrive at my desk at 9 a.m.

As I arrived in the Path station under the WTC Tuesday morning at approximately 8:50 a.m., there did not appear to be anything unusual about the day. As I walked up the first flight of stairs, there was smoke on the lower level. Because there was no sense of panic and there are several food venues on that level, I thought that there was a kitchen fire or a bagel burning. As I walked up the next flight of stairs and three flights of escalators, the smoke was increasing but still there was no panic in the air.

As I reached the WTC mall, the smoke was significantly thicker. As I turned to go my building, there was yellow tape blocking off that section and several security guards blocking that section telling people to leave the building. The smoke was very thick and I do not recall being able to see the doors of the building. Still, there did not seem to be panic. Everyone was walking calmly through the mall towards an outside exit.

As I was walking toward the exit out of the mall, a woman let out the most blood-curdling scream I think I have ever heard and that caused extreme panic and great fear for me and everyone in that area. That was the first time I was really terrified that morning. My first thought was that there was a gunman possibly coming around the corner. My second thought was that there might be someone with a bomb who was coming in the direction I was heading.

People began to run to get out of the building. It was like a stampede and I feared I would be trampled if I could not keep up with the crowd. As I neared the steps out of the building, someone behind seemed to quiet the crowd saying it was okay and the panic lessened. I made it outside safely.

At that point, I knew the North Tower was on fire because I could see it and there was a lot of smoke and debris all over the streets. I just wanted to get as far away as I possibly could. Because that particular area of Manhattan is very confusing and I was not really familiar with it, I was trying to orient myself to determine which was the best way to go north.

I started walking down a street that looked familiar when I heard the second plane crash into the South Tower. At the time, I did not know what had happened but it sounded like an aircraft was flying overhead and dropping bombs on the street. There was much confusion and panic in the streets and people began running again. I did not know what to think–were we at war, was it the end of the world?

It was like a movie was being filmed right where I was. I wondered if I should get under something for protection or find a basement to go into but decided the best option was to just keep walking as far away from the area as I could. It seemed as though I was walking in the direction of what I thought might have been where bombs could have been dropped so I turned around and ran the other direction, which is when I saw that the South Tower was on fire. After that, I just continued walking as quickly as I could toward mid-town Manhattan and caught a ferry to New Jersey where I eventually was able to get a ride to our corps where I met my husband.

The entire time I was walking, approximately 4-5 miles, I was talking with God. I was thanking him that I was alive, asking for his protection of those still in the building, possibly my co-workers, and asking that he comfort my husband and family because I knew they would think I was either injured or had perished.

Given the situation and that I did not know what was happening, I really felt a peace about life and my relationship with Christ and that if I did die, it would be okay. It felt great not to be a “crisis-Christian.” Now, I realize that the peace and quasi-calmness I felt were also the result of the hundreds of prayers being offered for my safety and others who were experiencing this horror.

This was an experience I will never forget and I pray that I will be able to use it to share my faith in God and let others know what a comfort it is to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, especially in times like these.

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