P R O B A T E & P R O P E R T Y
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I was one of the lucky ones.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was rushing from an early doctor's appointment to my office in the World Trade Center for a 9 a.m. conference call with my Morgan Stanley legal colleagues. Normally, I would be in the office well before 9 a.m., but even with the early appointment I was still making good time to be in place for the call.
I was on the PATH train that links New Jersey with New York, about eight minutes from the Trade Center, when the train suddenly stopped. The passengers were instructed to go to the westbound platform to take a different train into the city. When I exited that train a few minutes after 9 a.m., still hell bent on dialing into the conference call, I looked up and saw what could only be a bad movie-the upper floors of Tower 1 of the Trade Center were on fire! A few more steps revealed that the second tower was burning fiercely a few floors above my 65th floor office.
I approached the buildings as close as possible. The way down to the towers was a mass of debris. Parts of the plane were strewn across the street and had torn away part of a construction canopy. Even from a distance, you could see people jumping from the burning and blackened Tower 1. I was lucky being on the north side of the towers. People on the south side said it was nothing less than an indescribable war zone.
I made my way to within a block of the burning towers to see if co-workers and friends had escaped. FBI agents and New York City police were all over lower Broadway. Several fire trucks passed by, carrying many firefighters in their last minutes of life.
For nearly a half-hour, I watched as the towers burned. At approximately 9:48 a.m., someone nearby shouted that the building was collapsing. We watched the top thirty floors of my building start to twist and fall. The top unit began dropping, crashing upon the rest of the standing tower, causing floors to rapidly and violently pancake upon one another. By the 40th floor, the tower resembled a brownish gray waterfall as the concrete floors imploded on one another in rapid succession. As the remnants, now large pieces of shrapnel, hit the ground and began rushing toward us in a debris-laden brown and yellow cloud, a policeman and I turned and ran up Broadway. When I gestured that we get behind some concrete barriers we were passing, the policeman shook his head and we continued running.
We finally reached safety at City Hall and saw people emerging from the cloud, crying and covered in yellow ash from the collapse. Those of us who had made it turned back to help those who were just emerging. All around the area, strangers helped each other and stood together as the second tower collapsed at 10:15 a.m. Because cell phones were not working, we lined up at pay phones to call home, limiting our conversations out of consideration for the others in line behind us. Instead of panic, I saw the same spirit of cooperation and assistance I had witnessed when we had evacuated the upper floors of the World Trade Center when it was bombed in 1993.
I walked the nearly four and a half miles to Morgan Stanley's midtown offices. About a mile from the now-collapsed towers, it seemed as if nothing had happened. People were outdoors enjoying the day, seemingly oblivious to the horror that was happening only a short distance away. Only when I reached Times Square did reality start to hit home. People were gathered around the street watching a large screen carrying news of the event and related tragedies at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
Arriving at my company's offices, I watched a near-miracle unfold as our information technology and real estate groups had already begun placing employees and getting the firm's computers running. Workers who had been in the towers just hours before were rebuilding their company. We worked well into that evening when I was able to catch a train home. The station's parking lot reflected the tragedy of the day; even at midnight, the lot was still one-quarter filled. I made it home and hugged my family. Then I did the only routine thing I remember doing that day-I took the garbage out to the curb for the next day's collection.
Several months after the attack have given me time to reflect. What is now being called "Ground Zero" was once a vibrant office and tourist complex rising nearly a quarter mile high and totaling over 7 million square feet of office space. Nearly two decades of my legal career were spent at the World Trade Center. Although the company's executive offices moved to midtown Manhattan in 1995, Morgan Stanley still had the largest tenant roster at the Trade Center on September 11. Miraculously, only seven members of our firm died in the attack.
One of those seven fatalities, Rick Rescorla, was a genuine hero. Rick, a lawyer and combat veteran of the Vietnam War, headed our company's security department. As he did during the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center, Rick was directing people out of the building with a bullhorn on the stairwell. As he did in 1993, Rick and his fellow security cohorts went back up into the tower to pull the laggards out of the building. Only this time was different, as the building collapsed on them before they were able to evacuate themselves. Ironically, in the aftermath of his death, it was disclosed that after seeing the damage from the 1993 bombing, Rick accurately predicted that the next time the towers were attacked, it would be by some sort of aircraft.
While mourning the loss of these colleagues, we are also mourning the loss of our home. Many of us spent more time in our World Trade Center offices than we did in our family residences. Every day, those of us with offices in the towers enjoyed a view that paying tourists would wait for hours to see from the observatory deck. The south side had a tremendous view over New York harbor and the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge, and the north side (where my office was located) had a phenomenal view of midtown Manhattan that came to life at night when the Empire State building and the rest of Manhattan lit up.
My children, Megan and Corinne, share my loss. They have had childhood memories of holiday parties and other company functions in the building. Corinne often kicked a soccer ball the length of one of the Trade Center floors with members of our legal staff. Just a few weeks before the attack, Megan and I spent a pleasant day doing college tours and having lunch at an outdoor restaurant in the shadow of the towers.
I am indeed among the lucky ones-I escaped not only with my life after the World Trade Center attack, but also with fond memories of the towering landmark that once was my "home."
Alan M. Di Sciullo is first vice president and senior attorney with Morgan Stanley in New York, New York.