9/11/01: 'It was like the apocalypse'

An explosion rips through the south tower of An explosion rips through the south tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan after terrorists in the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175, which departed from Boston en route for Los Angeles, crashed into it Sept. 11, 2001. The north tower is seen burning after American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the tower at 8:45 a.m. Photo Credit: AP

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Bill Kelly, a day trader from Georgia, was walking by a Borders book store at the World Trade Center when the first explosion occurred.

"At first we just saw papers and stuff coming down," he said. "But then you noticed, all of a sudden, that it was people you were seeing, and that they were jumping out two at a time."

"I counted 10 of them, and then I stopped," Kelly said, his voice growing quiet. Then, he said, "we're looking up, saying like 'Oh my God,' and the second plane hit, and it started raining down on us. A tire fell, at least it looked like a tire, and it was attached to a chunk of metal. This landing gear, it landed on a woman. She was 5, 10 feet away from me."

"She was lying on her back, but her clothes were half torn off and it looked like her back was gone. She like sunk down into the pavement, all the skin broken up ... 'Aaah Jesus,' I thought."

Michael Craparo, of Westchester, was inside One World Trade Center when he heard the first explosion. Moments later, standing outside, he saw the second blast.

"Someone screamed, 'There's another one!'" he said. "And I saw a plane, and I saw the explosion, and the whole building popped out, the whole side of the building. Then, I saw people leaping from the building. It was horrible. I saw at least 12."

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It was a day no one will forget, especially those who were closest to the tragedy:

Manhattan attorney Richard A. Zimmerman, 54, was in his office on the 52nd floor about 8:30 a.m. when he saw the incoming plane hit One World Trade Center. He raced to the stairs and made his way down, passing firefighters headed the other way to help the injured.

"Every fireman I saw going up is probably dead," he said, "and many of these were people who helped us get away from the building."

Dave Bell and his co-worker at Deutsche Bank, Greg Shefrin, fled 130 Liberty St., across from the World Trade Center, after the first crash. They were trying to get outside when the second plane hit.

When they hit the street, heading toward the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, Bell couldn't help but look up at the flames and smoke. He knew the towers were going to collapse but, he recounted later, it was too fascinating to stop.

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"It was so amazing - so awe-inspiring," Bell said, recovering at the Brooklyn-side mouth of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. "But Greg kept saying, 'We got to get away. We got to get away.' And we did."

Joe Courtney of Rockaway Beach and his boss, Tim Cook of Huntington, work for Salomon Smith Barney on the 15th floor at 388 Greenwich St., at North Moore Street. They were in a shared office, with Cook's back to the window and Courtney facing him and the window behind him.

Courtney recalls hearing "a shriek, a rocket-like sound. I picked my head up and saw a plane hit the north tower," he said, "I thought it might be an accident. But then, 15 or 20 minutes later, someone from the south end saw a plane coming from over New Jersey, and they said, 'Here comes another one' and then the plane crashed into the south tower.

"I sat down and said prayers. I called my wife on the phone and she said, 'It's on the TV.' I said, 'Here comes another one.' And when I saw that, I knew we were under attack."

Ashley Razor, 26, was walking on 14th Street minutes after the attack, crying. "I saw it collapse and I have a friend who works in that building who I talked to early this morning," he said. "It had been hit, and I told her to get out, but she said they told everyone to stay in the building."

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Darren Suprina, 43, of East Brunswick, N.J., missed being in the north tower because his commuter bus was 10 minutes late. He saw the bodies fall:

"They were darkly dressed," he said, "like business suits. They fell at a rate faster than the debris."

John Howard, who works at Morgan Stanley, on the 60th floor of 2 World Trade Center, said the plane's crash into Building 1 shook his offices. During the evacuation, he said, there was a guy with a bullhorn telling them to stop.

"He was telling us, 'Don't panic!' saying that we we're safer in the building than leaving it," Howard said. "As he was saying that, there was a huge explosion right there. It was surreal. People were in a full-fledged panic. We all ran over the guy with the bullhorn to get out."

A Port Authority employee who identified himself only by his last name, Wilson, said he was on the 68th floor when the plane hit.

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"We felt the impact. Almost like right before let's say a bullet or a plane hits, you hear it go phshooooo-BOOM. The building rocketed," he said. "You could see it [the building] going back and forth, back and forth. The building swayed, and then you saw all this debris start falling ... "

Donna McCreadie and boyfriend Charlie Price were on Broadway, within a few blocks of the WTC, when the first tower collapsed. They said they were buried in an avalanche of soot and dust.

"Where you and I are standing," he told a reporter, standing right next to him, "we wouldn't be able to see each other ... you couldn't run because you'd run into people and you'd end up lying on the ground ... It became very, very difficult to breathe.

"We still have sore throats now. It was impossible to get stuff out of your mouth, out of your throat ... "

Father Alfred Guthrie of Brooklyn tried to help out by consoling the wounded. He said he delivered last rites to one man. "I'm sad, very sad," he said. "It hurts."

Lisa Feintuch, 28, of Forest Hills, works for Mortgageit.com on 33 Maiden Lane, two blocks east of the World Trade Center. She recalls that moments after the center collapsed, the entire neighborhood became white.

"It was like the apocalypse," Feintuch said.

Carol King, 43, a civil litigation investigator for NYC of Richmond Hill was in shock moments after the blast hit her building. She was shaking and her voice was quavering as she described what happened. After the collapse of the first building, "I thought I was dead, I was just lost and wandering around. I couldn't see and I couldn't breathe." Finally someone found her and took her outside, she said.

Wilbert Gurganious was working in the basement of building No. 1 when the first plane crashed. He ran into nearby City Hall Park. Minutes later the first building fell, and Gurganious tripped.

"When I got up, there was just a black cloud," he said. Gurganious had just returned from vacation yesterday and since the first bombing in 1993 he had feared a repetition. "I've been thinking somebody's going to blow it up again," he said. "I guess today they did it."

Sgt. Peter Brower was in lower Manhattan at West and Vessey streets. When the first building collapsed, he was next to it.

"I crawled under a truck until the thundering stopped and then I walked out ... I thought that was it. I thought it was my time. People were jumping. Body parts were all over the ground."

Jie Cheng, a Pace University student, had just made her way up from the City Hall area, running through Chinatown with a friend and then, still running, up along Lexington Avenue to 42nd Street. "I was at Pace University, and they told all the students to get out of the building," Cheng said. "When I reached the street, I looked up at the tower, and I saw people drop off thebuilding.

"I thought it was paper at first, but there were arms flying. My friend and I held hands and then one of the towers collapsed. That's when we started to run."

Emmanuel Georgaroudis, who works at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown, heard the explosion and immediately ran to the scene. He volunteered to help and the police deputized him.

When the first piece fell, Georgaroudis had to jump into an EMS truck to get out of the way. "It was coming down and I felt the force getting closer," Georgaroudis said. "I ran into the truck and then I felt the shock wave. It was pitch black."

Curtis L. Taylor, Stephanie McCrummen, Kathleen Kerr, Mae Cheng, Joshua Robin, Sean Gardiner, Dan Janison, Merle English, Mark Rochester, Errol A. Cockfield Jr., Glenn Gamboa, Halimah Abdullah, Martin C. Evans, William Murphy, Margaret Ramirez, Jessica Kowal, Sean Gardiner, Thai Jones, Bobby Cuza, Bryan Virasami, Mohamad Bazzi, Pete Bowles, S. Mitra Kalita, Katia Hetter, Paul Moses, Karen Freifeld, Patricia Hurtado, Graham Rayman, John Moreno Gonzales, Stephanie Saul, Ray Sanchez, Leonard Levitt, Indrani Sen, Roni Rabin, Diane Goldie, Rocco Parascandola, Robert Polner, Kris Petcharawises, Ron Howell, Carl MacGowan, Verne Gay and Tami Luhby contributed to this story. It was written by Taylor.

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