COMMENT: Personal Account - Open eyes and ears bleed a heart - Theday started out as ordinary for Alice Drayton, principal of publicrelations firm Wisteria. It turned into a day she won't soon forget

At 8:30am on Tuesday morning, I got a call from a client saying she

wanted to go ahead with a project. We'd meet at 2pm. Welcome news.



A few minutes later, watching Good Morning America, a strange image

popped onto the screen, then vanished. It looked like black smoke from

the top of the World Trade Center - against a pure blue sky. Then it

reappeared, along with a newscaster saying a plane had slammed into the

tower. What? I followed the news for about 20 minutes, until the show

suddenly went off the air - nothing but fuzz.



I took the elevator to the roof, 26 floors up. I could see smoke between

buildings to the south. I could see the edge of the WTC with orange

flames licking out from a high floor. Several others rushed up from the

floor below - a second plane had hit, knocking out the TV signal. My

phone lines were out, and my cell phone wasn't working. I had to go

see.



The bus trip was slow. Several people shoved aboard, one woman saying,

"My sister works there, but she's gotta be okay. She's on a low floor."

Another woman turned around: "The towers are dust and rubble. They're

gone." It went quiet.



At 14th street, the bus stopped. We began walking south. Tides of people

were coming north. A bunch of people were listening to someone, so I

stopped.



Two men with gray, greasy, tattered clothes and debris in their hair

identified themselves as businessmen escapees. "I couldn't see beyond

here," one said, hand in front of his nose. "I thought I was dead." They

were high on survival.



I walked down to the farthest barrier, two or three blocks north of the

scene. The road was jammed with ambulances, fire trucks, police, and an

unnerving absence of the towers. Suddenly, everyone began to run. "Get

out! Move! Now a gas main's broken." We pelted north, block after block,

gasping for breath, and stopping now and then to look back. Then running

more.



At 14th street, a long wait for another bus. People drifting, dazed. The

next bus that came was packed. With no air conditioning, it was hot and

uncomfortable; some were complaining, but most were silent with relief

or shock.



Sitting beside me on the bus were two young women who worked in 7 WTC,

facing the towers. "I saw this plane flying low. Pilot asleep? Passed

out? Then he drove it into the building. It was like a movie. You

couldn't believe it. The flames got bigger and people began to jump. Two

people jumped holding hands. They knew they were jumping to their

deaths. We walked down the fire stairs. I was holding the arm of an old

woman who said, 'Don't rush so much - I'll trip.' I slowed down, but

said I wanted to get out alive. When we got out, we walked north. People

were handing us water, masks, trying to help. So kind."



For the rest of the day and evening, endless TV.



The next morning was just as clear and sunny, with the dust cloud still

spreading across the southern horizon. I needed to get out, away from

the television. There were a lot of people in the street; they couldn't

work, couldn't get out of the city. Some postal workers passed by,

pushing their carts. At the end of my block, hordes were outside the Red

Cross Blood Center on Amsterdam Ave. People were lined up around the

block to donate blood, clothes, and money.



For 24 hours, hospitals were in high gear. At the beginning, they

treated people who'd been hurt in the streets: police, fire, and rescue

workers.



Then nothing happened for a while. The city was quiet, transportation

erratic. Store shelves emptied of staples, as food trucks were not

allowed to enter the city.



The news continued. Heartbreaking. "Miss, I was watching the towers

after the first plane, and I got my son on the phone. He was an

accountant in the other tower. I watched the second plane crash, and

then the connection was gone."



On the third day, people in my building - like me - were sour and sick

at heart, feeling lonely, depressed, and disconnected. The news

advanced: 12 firefighters from our local unit lost, body bags ordered,

tales from cell phones on the doomed planes, and passengers who tried to

fight back.



But we are not cowed. We are determined.



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