America Stands Tall

By Susan Frederick

Dear Family and Friends,
While I hope to be able to speak to each of you personally over the next few days, I wanted to immediately send my thanks for your good wishes, thoughts and prayers for me during yesterday's unbelievable event.

As I told my husband, I truly never expected to add "survival of a terrorist attack" to my resume. As you are all aware my company was close to ground zero. When the plane struck the building it felt exactly like an earthquake.

The only advanced sound was a large windful swoosh. At first we had no idea if it was a bomb or the building had been struck. The mayor was correct when he talks about the toughness of New Yorkers. It was amazing how calm, supportive and helpful everyone was throughout the day.

Here's my personal account of the day.

Our personnel immediately headed for the stairs as smoke began Filtering quickly down. One wall outside our company had been pushed in so far it was impassable. The only stairway open got us only as far as the 77th floor when we came up against a door that was jammed shut. In the WTC stairways, down are not a straight shot. At various levels you have to
cross hallways and through additional doorways to continue.

We were invited into another company's offices on that floor while their people sought out an alternative route. We went into a conference room and turned on the TV. We learned that our building had been struck by a plane but it was not announced at this point that it was a terrorist attack.

As we watched TV, the building shook again and what we thought was debris from our own building began striking the windows of the conference room so we immediately left. We know now that this was building number two being hit by the second airplane. Within 5-10
minutes, someone had found another way out and we began our trek down the stairs. We had to walk through a hallway at this point where the ceiling was being hosed down by an employee from the company we had taken refuge in. This is what I mean by the spirit of New Yorkers. It is because of their initiative that we got out. No one from the building security or city rescue had been able to get to us at this point, as the only way up or down was stairwells. All the elevators had been immediately knocked out by the flames and smoke shooting down the shafts from the explosion of the plane's fuel on impact.

The calm of the people around us as we walked down was amazing. People who had been hurt or were having a problem getting down were being assisted at every point. When congestion slowed us to a stop, no one shoved or made a scene; we respectfully waited until we could move again. People passed information up and down the line to try and keep
people informed about what was happening and those with Blackberries sent as many emails as they could for folks around them as none of our cell phones worked.

We finally got out of the smoke when we hit the 35th floor. It felt great to breathe fresh air and that lifted everyone's spirits. We also started running into building personnel. Around the 27th floor, we ran into firefighters climbing up. I can't imagine what it must have been like to walk up that many flights with all the gear they had. They looked so winded at that point. I doubt that they made it out before the building collapsed and my prayers and thoughts are with them and their families now.

By the 7th floor, the stairwells were flooding with water from what we assumed were the firefighting efforts. We were feeling buoyant when we hit 3 and thought we're almost out of here. It had taken us a little over an hour to get this far. But the adventure it seemed, was far from over. At that point, as we learned later, building 2 collapsed and hit our building.

Once again it felt like a bomb had gone off as the building shook again and there was this tremendous whoosh of air that almost knocked us off our feet. At that point the lights went out. There was so much debris that our way out was blocked. I remember thinking there is no way I walked down 77 flights to die 3 floors from safety. We climbed back up to floor 4
where a firefighter punched a hole in the wall to get us out. We made a human chain hanging on to the person in front and the person in back of us as we made our way out into the 4th floor rotunda in the dark. We got our first glimpse of what looked like a war zone. We walked through ankle deep dust and out through a doorway to the outside plaza in front of the US Customs building. As we were led to a stairwell to street level we climbed over
girders and moved around office furniture and layers of office papers, twisted metal, broken glass, and other debris.

By now we were wet and covered in this ash. People all looked like their hair had turned pre-maturely gray. We were told to walk quickly up the street. Within minutes (we now know it was no more than 4), we heard a rumble, turned to see our tower begin to collapse and a large cloud of black moving up the street. We ran. We spent the better part of the
rest of the day in someone's apartment on 10th Street calling to track down the rest of our co-workers. We have now accounted for all but 3.

It is by God's miracle alone, that I am convinced I got out. It is your prayers that helped make that happen. I am grateful to be alive and grateful for my family and friends. Amazingly, I never felt afraid and I believe that was because I truly felt God's hand upon me. It was not my time and I'm sure he heard all your prayers. I'm not sure what is next. But for now smelling the flowers is just fine with me.

Love Susan


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