Survivors tell of escaping the World Trade Center
The Associated Press
"There was mass hysteria, people were screaming," said Cruz, 32. "I heard a lady's voice saying "Go back! Go back! There's been an explosion!' I smelled smoke and I saw a lot of paper flying like confetti."
Cruz rushed to the stairwell along with other panicked co-workers from Aon Risk Services, an insurance brokerage company, where he started work a month ago.
At the 63rd floor, he decided to try to look out a window of one of the offices.
"One side of Building 1 was engulfed in flames. People were yelling 'Oh my God! They're jumping, they're jumping out the window.' I looked down and I saw a lot of debris, and I saw blood spots. I saw the horror. That's when it hit me and I thought to myself, 'I have to get out of here."'
As Cruz rejoined the heavy stream of people on the smoky stairwell, the second plane hit. This time, it was his tower.
"The whole building moved and it was swaying back and forth. I heard a muffled boom and I thought everything was just going to collapse. People were rushing and merging together and going crazy," he said.
When he finally got to the ground floor, dust and smoke had darkened the air. Amid the debris that littered the ground, Cruz said he saw a burnt torso.
As he turned away, he caught the eye of a co-worker. They exchanged shaky smiles and she said, "We're very lucky, aren't we?"
Cruz could only nod in agreement.
Later, he said: "It's still surreal in my head. The reality of it hasn't hit me. Even though the World Trade Center has fallen and all these people are possibly dead. I'm just so lucky, I'm just so lucky."
Lolita Jackson, a Morgan Stanley Investment Management employee, said she and 15 other people were in a business meeting on the 70th floor when the first plane crashed.
"We couldn't see the plane coming toward us but we saw fire, smoke and papers — office papers, so obviously there was a hole in the building," said the 34-year-old Jackson. "When we saw that, we saw fire actually shooting out of the building, we knew it was time to leave."
She and her co-workers walked down to the 59th floor and were then told to take elevators to a lobby on the 44th floor. That's where they were when the second plane hit the opposite side of the building.
"The building swayed probably about two feet," Jackson said. "I thought at that point it was going to topple over. That was the moment I was probably the most scared."
Jackson, who said she also went through the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by terrorists, started going down the stairs with the aid of rescue workers.
"Had the second plane hit first, we probably all would have been dead," she said.
Jackson added that she never thought such a thing would happen again.
"I always would tell my friends that my disaster chit has already been used up," she said.
Carrie Kennedy, an economist for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, made her way down safely from the 37th floor of Building 1 shortly after it was hit.
"I was just sitting at my desk going through my e-mail, when the building started to shake. The noise actually followed the movement," said Kennedy, who turns 29 on Saturday.
Kennedy and several co-workers made their way down emergency staircases to the darkened concourse that connects the towers at ground level.
"It was dark, about an inch of water on the floor and sprinklers were going off. People were covered with thick soot," she said.
Once outside, she turned to see a body fall from the tower she had just escaped.
Kenton Beerman, 24, was also sending e-mail at work when an explosion rocked 1 World Trade Center, making it sway back and forth for 10 seconds.
At first, Beerman thought the building would fall into the Hudson River. Then he realized it had stopped moving and saw thousands of pieces of paper fluttering outside.
"We thought it was a bomb in the freight elevator," Beerman said, because the sound of the explosion seemed to have come from that direction.
He headed into a corridor with about 15 co-workers and made his way down the stairs from the 53rd floor. The lights were still on but the stairwell reeked of smoke and something that smelled like kerosene. Beerman and others had to step aside so people who had been burned could descend more rapidly — and so firefighters could head up the stairs.
Forty-five minutes later, Beerman reached the ground floor. Building debris, dust and broken glass littered the plaza. People were crying and hugging each other as smoke poured into the air.
"It must have been what a war zone would look like," he said.
Several blocks away, he ran into his brother, who had run more than a mile to look for Beerman.
"He hugged me, he was crying. He said 'I'm so glad you're safe."'
Associated Press reporters Jim Kennedy, Michael Luo and Ron Todt contributed to the report.