My Life Experience on 911
Part One — Catastrophe on Sunny Day
“Oh! My goodness, look at that!” “Oh! My God!” Standing in the crowded street, watching people jumping out of the North Tower of World Trade Center (WTC), people started screaming, and some started crying. With an empty mind, I did not know where to go…
Early in the morning, I jumped out of the subway, full of energy, and arrived at the WTC around 7:30 AM, earlier than usual. However, I did not enter my office on the 46th floor as usual since an 8 o’clock meeting would take place a block away. Rather than rush myself into the WTC ofﬁ ce and then to the meeting, I headed for the venue to get there earlier.
“Your WTC building is burning! Someone said a plane hit it!” “You must be kidding! I don’t believe it.” Walking out of the conference room, Jenny, my wife, caught me in time on the phone. “Well, let me have a cup of coffee, then, I’ll head out to take a look.” I did not believe such a thing could have happened, and tried to walk out with a cup of coffee at hand. Getting out of the building, I saw the debris on the ground and dust in the air. “Hmm, what is going on?” With suspicion, I sped up to cross this short block. Right before arriving at the Liberty Street around 9:07AM, there was a trembling shock and horriﬁ c sounds, forcing me to run and hide in a deli store on the Greenwich Street. “Jesus, what’s going on? What was that?” Debris was showering down like bullets. Should it had happened 5 seconds later, I would have arrived at the Liberty Street, and you would not have read this article.
Without hesitation, I ran back to 4 Albany, took my suitcase, and headed for the south end while the building manager announced imminent evacuation. That was the moment I saw the horrible scene of people jumping out of One World Trade Center. Standing for a while in silence, and then realized that there was nothing I could do. Police stood guard in front of the building, and there was no way to get into the WTC. I headed east to take the northbound subway. Lines 1 and 9 were not operating, and the status of lines N/R was unknown. The custodian in the ticket booth told me that the N train had just passed and no further information on the train is available. He cited the radio broadcasting to me that the Pentagon had just been hit by who knows what. I talked to myself “Something is deﬁ nitely wrong!”
It took a few moments to clear up my mind. Walking further east, full of questions, I jumped into the number 4 subway at the Wall Street Station. The conductor announced that this train would go to the City Hall without stopping by the Fulton Street. Immediately after that announcement, the subway stopped, and no one knew what was going on. Although anxiety showed upon everyone’ sface , passengers showed reasonable calm with some exceptions. Gradually, I smelled smoke in the air, and some of the passengers started crying, shouting, etc. However, I knew keeping calm was the only way to survive in this bizarre situation, especially underground, and started reading my newspaper. Time froze, the smoke turned thicker, and no further information was announced. The coach got warmer steadily, and crying grew louder. The entropy increased, and we still did not know what was going on. After the passengers failed to exit from the front section, the conductor made a decision to drive back to the Wall Street
Station. Moving backward triggered an emergency brake, so the train had to restart backward movement several times before reaching the Wall Street. Every time the emergency brake was engaged, all the passengers were thrown forward. Finally, the subway stopped near the Wall Street Station, and we walked through one coach after another to the back end and got out of the subway. The smoke got thicker and thicker, and we had to slow down our pace and became more alert.
Near the exit, people began to run amuck out of the ground. I found that the whole world was black and no one else was on the street. Just 15 minutes ago, the sun was shining, and the world was colorful even though we knew there was a disaster happening at the World Trade Center. The ground was covered by a couple inches of dust, debris was showering everywhere, and it became very difficult to breathe. “What kind of world is this? Is this the hell?” This shocking image pumped my head so hard that it could not be wiped out till now.
Around the corner, running into a dim lit building where some one opened the door and waved to us, I finally realized that I was in the center of a serious disaster. Then, the fire warden started operating, and people started helping each other, handing out towels and water, assisting handicapped or the ones with difficulty to breathe. Looking outside, ambulances and police patrols were rushing and shouting with desperate sirens. After getting tissue and water, I became more patient to wait for the moment to get out of this. Just at the instant, a dark cloud rushed over, the world turned dark again, and it became harder to breathe inside the building. I had to cover my nose with wet paper towel to breathe in the basement three levels below the ground. From the announcement, I knew I was in the EMC building. Keeping calm without deep breath, my arthritis did not bother me badly. Suffering the smoke inside the building, I used cell phone to call Jennie several times. It rang, but she did not pick up
the phone. She was around 15 blocks north to the WTC and should be safe there. Around 12:30PM, Bid those still inside the building a farewell, I stepped out on the inches-high dusty street, moving southeast to the South Street Sea Port, and then headed north alone. Carrying a bottle of water and covering my nose with wet paper towel, I saw papers and dusts ﬂ ying all over the dark sky. Over the South Street Sea Port, although the air quality was still very poor, I could see some people around and some light broke out of the sky. That made me less anxious. Looking west, I could see the sky above the WTC building was covered by smoke and fire, and the building itself was invisible. Walking toward north while staring west, I thought the WTC buildings probably fell from above the spot where they were hit, and the rest part below must have survived.
When I reached the Chinatown, I saw lots of people gathering there and moved slowly northbound. The public transportation was totally suspended, the streets were stalled, and I kept walking north slowly. Following the crowd, I passed the Chinatown to the lower Manhattan. Some local stores prepared water and cookies on the sidewalk to serve the crowd. Stopped over the Sal Army building, I took a break to drink some water. Then, I saw the WTC collapsing completely on the trembling TV screen. I was shocked with tears, and realized that everything was gone.
Part Two — Disaster Recovery
Sitting there, bombed by the horrible scenes repeatedly, I suddenly lost the strength to walk again, and hesitated to stand up and move on. “How could this happen? Why did it happen? Who did these? What kind of crazy guys are they?” Questions started popping up in my mind. “Am I living in the ivory tower, knowing nothing about the deep nature of human being?” After putting myself together to move forward, I felt each step heavier and heavier. The sun gradually fell in the west, and my destination seemed to be lost. I stopped by the telephone booth and made a call home, but nobody answered. I kept walking north mindlessly. Suddenly, some buses showed up. I jumped into a northbound bus on the 23rd Street, then took another westbound bus to the Penn Station. When I reached home around 7 o’ clock, Jennie and Charles had been waiting for me. We hugged together in the dark for quite a while, excited in the heart but without words. Never had I felt that they meant so much to me in my life. We walked out of
the house each morning and never thought we might not see each other again in the night. Thank God, I was ﬁnally home.
Before taking any break, I was dragged to the computer by the phone. A group of people from one of our major clients had been waiting for me to work on the business contingency. Thanks to the disaster recovery we emulated twice every year, the contingency site came up without any problem, but the communication line to the Federal Reserve Bank did not sync up successfully because the SNA gateway served both as the development gateway and the contingency gateway. I had to reconﬁ gure this gateway for business use. Exhausted and under extreme pressure, I confused number “1” and character “I”, and it took a while to find out. Soon, the line was synchronized and the whole system ran the end-of-the-day process and the nighttime batch successfully.
Sitting on the sofa with exhaustion and emptiness, the disaster scenes on the TV ﬂ ashed repeatedly. I could hardly accept the fact that my office was completely ruined, and all the backup tapes were there too. I knew everyone was safe over the phone, however, I did not know where to start again. Maybe it was the time to close the business.
Two weeks passed. Some clients started to call and pushed me to recover other noncritical sites. Thanks to the good relationship among partners, colleagues and clients, we met together at other location with machines from all the possible sources, and installed most of the production software in these computers. After many days and nights, we recovered most of our client sites but our own. The situation was much less than perfect, however, I was cheered up and somewhat recovered. One of my best friends provided me a temporary site for servers, and my business started sailing again. I owed many thanks to those who helped the business recover from this catastrophe.