Nafisa Degani born in Calcutta and a resident of Elliot Road for many years was busy working on 99th floor of Tower II of World Trade Center on 11th September’2001 when it was hit. The resident of New York recounts the events leading to her survival.
It was my son’s birthday. I sat down cheerfully at my desk in yet another morning in the contract wording department at Aon Re Inc. I was speaking to my boss when she saw an aircraft come into view. This was not unusual as we would see a number of helicopters and aircrafts come close for a ‘touristy’ view of the Towers. Sometimes we could see even the pilots inside.
But this was different. This aircraft was headed for the Tower! In next few seconds, I actually saw the aircraft dissolve into the building (Tower I), seen from eye level just a few meters away.
First things to happen were environment turning dark, flames shooting out and papers flying all over. For us immediately overlooking the ‘hotspot’ this was not really alarming. After all it was an accident that would be corrected soon, right?
Should I leave or should I stay? Stay, of course. After all this has happened to another building not ours. So I did what was compelling in the circumstances: stand and watch. After all this was something unprecedented, the world would need to know what had happened and we made sure we got a ring side view so that we could tell our family every details when we got back home that evening. Besides intercom announced that we stay calm in our seats and everything would be okay.
So my boss continued to describe to her friends on the phone what was happening. Some of my other colleagues were busy describing how this plane came in from nowhere and how the pilot must have lost control. My colleagues were watching the multicolor of the big fireball a few meters away from the comforts of their air-conditioned rooms. It was like a Spielberg film unfolding before us where we were passive audience rolling our eyes and mouth in wonder.
Then something else happened. A large flame ball shot out from the other side of the building. The flame kept coming closer every second and staring in my face now. What if the glass windows shattered? That’s when something inside me shouted: “Get the hell out of here!” The next instant I snatched my purse from the desk and run for the foyer.
Take the elevator or run down stair? The elevator would have taken few minutes with a change in 78th floor. If I ran down it would take 45 minutes. The voice inside said “elevator”; I took the stairs instead. This is what happened from stair 99 to ground zero.
*The crowd kept swelling with each passing floor.
*Hardly any one talked. All you could hear was rhythmic stomping of hundreds of feet. Thump! Thump! Thump!
*Some ladies tore their skirts and yanked off their stilettos to run faster. I was lucky; I was in trousers and flats.
*People helped. People supported. No shoving. No stampede. No “let me get out first”.
*A huge shake to Tower II when we were in 40s (I later learnt we had been hit).
When we reached ground zero, there were policemen to escort us out of the building. I actually got out, walked over to the other side, looked up and saw two gigantic candles aflame. I stood entranced for a few minutes. A few minutes.
Stand and watch or run? Surely stand and watch. After all it was just a fire and even it were to extend down endangering me, it would probably take hours. The voice inside me screamed, “Run!” I turned and bolted. Within seconds, the second tower –my building- had imploded.
I ran and ran and ran uptown to Washington place. Non-stop. I don’t know how long. I collapsed and probably passed out. It was like a pause in memory. When I regained consciousness I saw this stranger-Laura-come forward to help. When I told her I had been in Tower II, she exclaimed: “Oh my God!”
It took me months to get back into stride. Our office lost 174 members from several floors. I lost my colleagues –who were like sisters- of nine years. Nothing was found of my two colleagues. No memorials, no burials. They simply vaporized.
Source: The Telegraph, Calcutta edition, 12th September’08