By Kamran Rafieyan, contributed by Sharon Simpson (Evans) ‘60
This is from my daughter whose very close friend Roia's brother, Kamran, barely escaped from Tower 1 last Tuesday. You might want to pass it along to Werner for the Trumpet - I just got in to the office this Monday morning after one of the saddest weekends in my life. What a lot of grief and pain. But we will rebuild and we will regain our shining city. Hope you are all well.
Thank you for the well wishes. There has been an unbelievable outpouring of support from everybody and everywhere, both for us personally and for the company. It has been a rather hectic last few days so it’s taken a while to get back to people, but I’ll give you almost the whole story, though it’s not that pleasant.
First the incredible good news - everybody in our office escaped the World Trade Center and survived. Only one person was injured, and he is home from the hospital now and is expected to fully recover after some physical therapy for his arm.
Our offices were on the 83rd floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, facing North. We were literally 5 floors directly below where the first plane hit. I sit right by the window, but did not see it coming as I was looking at my computer at the time. There were only about 15 of us at the office at the time, as it was still early and some of our employees were also at client offices only a block away.
We heard kind of a last-second weird rumble noise, and then there was an incredible crash and explosion. The whole building rocked, and a number of ceiling tiles crashed to the floor. I remember being rather stunned and wondering if I should dive under my desk. A number of people screamed and somebody yelled, “I think a plane just hit the building!” I looked out the window and saw flaming debris falling past the window, in an almost surreal and slow motion manner.
About 20 seconds later, the crash was over. We all stood up, and as previously instructed in fire drills, we gathered everybody together to leave the building. I remember still being kind of confused and wondering if we should shut down the system, call customers, or what. I grabbed only my wallet, assuming they would put the fire out and I would come back up for everything else.
We opened the front door to our office and were greeted with thick black smoke and evidence of fire in the hallways. Now there was a bit of panic and we shut the door. We came back to the office and there was talk of putting wet towels under the doors and waiting till somebody came to get us. While discussing this we looked over to the windows again and were greeted with the sight of a huge amount of gasoline (jet fuel actually, as we later found out) streaming down the windows. At this point we decided we had to leave no matter what. There were also no alarms going off and no loudspeakers (which is what is supposed to happen in this situation), so we figured a lot of the building emergency infrastructure had been knocked out.
Somebody had the foresight to go and grab two rolls of wet paper towels. We covered our faces with wet paper towels and re-opened the door. One of our employees who is also a volunteer rescue worker made a run for the stairway, got there, and yelled for everybody that they could make it and to get to the stairway immediately. We told everybody to go and we all made the dash through the black smoke to the stairway. We made it into the stairway where there were already people coming from a floor or two above and people coming in below us.
We made it from the 83rd floor to the 78th floor pretty quickly. At the 78th floor, the stairway emptied us into the large lobby on 78. 78 is an inter-change floor where the large elevators stop and then there are many small banks of elevators to get to the upper floors, like ours. The 78th floor was a disaster, with collapsed ceilings, broken elevators, smoke, and people quickly piling in from the upper floors. There was a bit more panic here, as some of the stairways were not accessible. Eventually we found the next stairway and started heading down that.
This began the over 1 hour journey to get down all the stairs to the bottom of the building. I remember thinking how it was a good thing that I had biked both days over the weekend and was in good shape for whatever was needed. However, this was no sprint down the stairs, as it was incredibly crowded with people constantly coming in from lower floors.
The journey down the stairwell was one of the longest and worst ever. A number of people were visibly shaken or sobbing, but people were generally very cooperative, helpful, and trying to be orderly. There were a lot of times when we would all just stop for almost a minute due to slowdowns below, and that was very unnerving.
We did not hear alarms or run into any rescue/port-authority workers till we got down to about the 50’s. By this time it was a bit more organized. We would all move to the right to let down injured people (mostly burns, bad smoke inhalation, or bad cuts). We would pass information up and down the stairs to let people know what was going on (injuries coming down, rescuers coming up, general slow down due to more people, etc.). Most of the floors down to this point were clearly on fire, based on heat, smoke, and smell.
At this point, we still had no idea what had happened. We were actually all in the stairs when the second plane hit the other tower. We were hearing lots of rumblings and such, but did not know what they were and were trying to ignore everything and focus on one step at a time to the bottom.
By the time we got down to about the 20th floor (it seemed like an eternity), somebody had managed to get through on a cell phone and announced that two hijacked planes from Boston had hit the two towers. People were shocked and stunned, but kept moving. At this point, there were a lot of firefighters coming up the stairs as we were going down, and a number of these lower floors did not seem damaged yet.
We finally made it to the atrium. This would actually be considered the 2nd floor, a huge room that looks out onto a raised courtyard between the two towers. As we finally left the stairwell, there were now rescue workers lined up yelling for us to “keep moving - don't look, just keep moving!!” The atrium is mostly 40-foot high glass windows, so you can't help but see. The courtyard looked like a holocaust with piles of debris and more flaming debris continually coming down.
We ran down the escalators to the 1st floor and were then led through the mall which is at the base of the World Trade Center towers. In here, the sprinkler system was going. We hurried through about two inches of water while being rained on by the sprinklers. The water was actually welcome at this point after an hour of being in the hot and occasionally smoky stairway.
We were finally led out of the building on Church Street, the east side of the building. Once again, there were lines of helpers telling people to keep moving and not to look. Having been stuck on the stairs for so long, we obliged with speed and hurried across the street and on to the next block.
At one block away, we took a quick look behind us to see both towers looking like candlesticks with flame and smoke pouring from the top. We continued on for another block. I was with two other co-workers at this point, having been separated from most of the others in the confusion. I hadn't taken my cell-phone so I asked whichever one of them could get through to home first to have a message relayed to Jennifer.
We were just trying to figure out where to go, when we heard a loud rumble. We turned around and I saw the most unforgettable thing ever. I saw about 40 stories of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center tip and begin to crumble and fall over. It was like an unreal movie. People started to scream and we all just turned and sprinted as fast as we could to get away from the mass of debris that was about to fall. In the mass stampede I was split up from my co-workers and I ended up running toward the Brooklyn Bridge. I was lucky not to be hit by anything, but I was then covered by dust from the massive dust cloud that followed.
To give you an idea of how close we were, one of my co-workers who was about 100 feet behind us ended up getting hit by falling debris, and he was the one who had to go the hospital for bad head and arm injuries. One more of our co-workers was still in the stairwell of Tower 2 when Tower 1 collapsed. The exit of his stairwell ended up getting blocked, and he had to go back up to find another stairway. He was carrying a woman with cerebral palsy and eventually was found by a fireman who stuck an oxygen mask on his face and led them out one of the few unblocked stairways. Then they had to climb over rubble and head uptown.
I ran to the Brooklyn Bridge and when the dust cloud had subsided, trotted the rest of the way to Brooklyn. I wandered into Brooklyn slightly dazed, and after a few blocks saw a Marriott Hotel. That looked pretty good to me, so I popped in, washed up in a bathroom and went to stand in a long payphone line to call and say I was ok. I finally managed to get through a quick message to Jennifer and my parents.
I wandered outside again wondering what to do next. I was a bit chilled from the water from the sprinklers and didn't know what else to do, so I wandered back to the Marriott and ended up in a conference room that they had turned in to a quick kind of shelter. I didn't feel great so I popped in there and got a blanket and some water and sat down. They had TV’s running and it was pretty much the first time that I had a chance to see what was really going on. I don't think I could even comprehend it at the time.
I stayed at the Marriott and there were many very helpful medical types, volunteers, and the like. They washed out my eyes and gave me stuff to eat and drink. I ended up being interviewed for both Bloomberg and the BBC. I managed to get through to Jennifer again in the late afternoon and there was a whole crowd of people who had gone to our house to be with Jennifer to lend their support. We decided I should probably just stay at the Marriott and figure out what to do the next day. I also found out that everybody from our office had made it out.
I was startled at about midnight when Amir Zandi, an old friend of my dad’s and the family who lives in Queens, appeared in the hotel to get me. We managed to drive out of Brooklyn, went up and around Manhattan, and got back to my car at the park and ride in Jersey. I eventually made it home at about 3 in the morning.
As for the business, we are re-building as quickly as possible. Everything in the office is obviously destroyed; however we maintain off-site backups of everything, so all of our software and data can be restored, with only a few days of work lost. We actually have a second office, though it is about 10 blocks south-east of the World Trade Center. It is undamaged, but may not be accessible for a week or two.
We have multiple partner companies offering us temporary office space and anything else we need. We have plenty of money in the bank and time to rebuild. It is amazing how many people are pitching in so quickly. We obviously lost a lot of ground, but we will rebuild quickly. It is sad to think that only the week before we were handling over 40 million shares a day. We are a very strong company that will persevere though. One note of interest - at about 9:40 AM, almost an hour after the first plane hit, people were actually still able to trade on our system, which was still up and running on the 83rd floor, prior to succumbing to the building collapse.
There is not much more I can say. I was very lucky to have escaped and it was quite a harrowing experience. It will take a while before everything is back to normal, but we’ll carry on.
Please pass the story on to other family and friends who are interested, as it has become exhausting to go through it any more.