Subj: SURVIVOR OF WTC 21ST FL
Date: 9/14/2001 5:49:48 PM Eastern Daylight Time (Updated 3/25/2002)
Thanks for your concern for all of us.
We got out just in time after the second airplane hit Tower 2. (9/11/2001) The plane went
completely into the building allowing all of the survivors (us) included, to rush across the
street, north of the Financial Center. We stood there for a short while watching the towering inferno. I saw people
jumping from the gash of Tower 1. All of the USS staff exited the building safely and are alive.
<Note that 9/11 = 911 code-emergency>
Stepping back to the beginning, approx 8:45am, I was looking for a file to support an expense on our July reports. Suddenly,
I heard a muffled explosion with echoed report. The tower rocked at least a foot, (actually 6 feet), back and forth, like an
amusement park ride, for almost a minute. I was thrown against a desk. In this minute, I wondered in my mind how it
would be like falling with the towers. Strangely, I didn't think I would die. I would be saved by an open space, under a desk
or doorway. All of the filing cabinets slid open. I tried to close them but there were too many. Roger said later to us that he
thought it had been an earthquake and that the tower was going to fall. It didn't, allowing us to exit to the stairs, but not
until I turned off my computer properly, and coming back again in my office to get as many towels I could get to cover our
faces, on the lightly Smokey stairwell. I forgot to douse the towels with water, but it was better than nothing. Amazingly I
thought we were going to come back sometime, like in 1993. It was hard to think, to take anything out with me.
Going down the staircase, we went through water, coming from the sprinklers and ceiling, cascading down the stairs.
People suddenly stopped moving down and I thought the worst, as I thought there was bomb damage below us and we
were going right towards it. I was full of anxiety in my thoughts. We started to move again and finally I saw daylight, out
from the stairwell door on the plaza level, overlooking the elevators. From the door we were directed by WTC security to
the safest exit. There were charred bodies near the 1993 Memorial on the plaza outside. The huge windows were all cracked
with gaping holes. We then were following each other slowly down the still moving escalator, people screamed, to run
down faster toward the WTC Marriott Hotel entrance. We were led to the then SAFE, at the time, Tower 2, as mentioned
above. (The second airplane hit Tower 2 at the same time we were about to exit to the street). Diane, ahead of us, actually
saw the second airplane hit the center. She was right under it. Ron broke up from us to try and locate our other staff
members, Crystal, Olga and Maritzela. There were shoes on the ground facing away from the WTC, left behind by someone
and all kinds of things such as keys and a portable radio in the rush to get away to safety.
We then went to Roger's apartment building, but only Roger was allowed up to his apartment. Eileen, Diane, Mark and I
were asked to leave the lobby. We went to the small park behind the building. We could see only one half of Tower 2. It
was burning, (another building was in front of it). Because of that obstructed view, when Tower 2 collapsed, it looked like
it liquefied and started pouring down, getting lower by steps all the way, like a decreasing waterfall. The sound was like
Niagara Falls, from the vantage point of the Maid of the Mist, at the base of the falls in Canada. I will never forget that
sound, that rumbling sound. The black acrid smoke chased towards us like a freight train, leaving no time to think of what
to do to beat it. There are 10 foot plus walls around the open park area. I did not want to jump due to my recent bipass
operation. At this time I did not know where Diane, Eileen or Mark were, I could not see anyone, like a nuclear winter. It
was an every man for himself rule at this time. Ron never came back with us. I found out the next day he was alive and well.
He walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.
The air was getting dark with ash and smoke. I went left to the wall, and saw a table on the ground below. I went over the
wall onto the table. I could not see, except for a partial outline of a door frame. I grabbed the frame and pulled it open
against people on the other side trying to shut it, to keep the dust out and to limit the people who could get in, lest the
room fill up with dust and smoke. This was a restaurant underneath Roger's building!! I stayed alive for the third time, I
thanked God that I was spared again. There actually was a cruller on a dish in front of me. Just me! It felt strange, but I took
a piece of it. I thought of everyone else and their ordeal. All was not over. We were given water and napkins to soak with
water. One man was injured and was being treated on a table. Firemen walked in and asked for anyone with medical
experience to volunteer and also wanted the restaurant as a Command Post. The dust was subsiding and all of us were
asked to leave. I took another folded napkin in a basket near the door, to find out later it still had a knife and fork wrapped
up in it. I learned later that Mark, Diane and Eileen were picked up by a Fire boat and taken to Jersey City at this time.
I started to walk down the riverside walkway to Battery Park. There was a group of young people laughing and taking
pictures of each other. They said there wouldn't be another event such as this. They lined up side by side to take pictures of
themselves. There was a man on a bench with a strange smile on his face. He was just sitting there, not trying to get away.
I reconnected with Roger. He was caring for an 89 year old woman he led from his apartment house. We were given white
masks by an EMS worker. This replaced my gray caked towel. It was hard to put on correctly without inhaling ash, as there
was so much debris still falling from the sky. I put mine on upside down. She stayed with us on our trek down to the Ferry
Terminal area. We never made it. Tower 1 collapsed, looking like a volcano, with the same furious sound as Tower 2. The
intense black smoke and dust was pouring towards us. We kept on walking. I was behind Roger, barely seeing his shoes to
guide me. Our faces were looking down to the ground for protection from falling ash and debris, sometimes walking
blindly into the bushes nearby. Lucky for all of us, this time, the smoke and ash started to go south away from the waters
edge but towards the Ferry Terminal Building.
We saw Coast Guard, Fire boats and the New York Waterway Ferries from NJ come to rescue us. They lined up behind the
bulkhead railings. Taking on one person at a time, in the middle front of the ferry, "WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST". I
commented aloud "Just like the Titanic". The WTC towers disintegrating and sinking. People agreed very seriously. Roger's
new found friend was taken aboard first. I had to be picked up fireman's style and placed on the deck. I was given first class
treatment by the deck hand, checking on me later to see if I was all right. I sat next to a lady who was very concerned for
me. She herself was very distraught. She held my hand throughout the trip. I didn't find out her name. All were taken to
Roger and I walked to all hotels to no avail for a room, ending up at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel. Later that night, Roger
reserved three rooms with the help of an HSBC employee that also let us use her phone in the hotel conference room.
Almost everyone there was in a clean suit or casual dress. We were covered; head to toe, in gray ash. Nobody seemed to
acknowledge us that we just went through hell on earth. It was a very surreal day! The hotel was holding, honoring,
reservations for non arriving passengers from the airport even though all flights were canceled after the attack. We set up
temporary headquarters offices there. Roger was not allowed to go back to his apartment at Battery Park City.
The next day my son picked me up, traveling from Connecticut. The bridges to Staten Island were reopened again on
9/12/01. A military jet flew by, breaking the sound barrier heading towards NYC. The jet sound, at first, frightened me.
What a moving sight in this terrible new era! We are at War..........
Home again and alive and well??..................
God Bless America!!!
Richard P. LoPresti
United Seamen's Service, Inc.
One World Trade Center
New York, NY 10048
A Letter from a Survivor of 9/11