Outside, the world watched in disbelief as the two World Trade Center towers, one by one, were hit by jet airliners. Inside Tower Two, Lo, 24, was sitting at his desk, beginning his second week of work. The havoc began with a loud Boom! that sounded as though a large desk had been dropped on the floor. Shortly afterward, Los computer began to surge. Lo then turned around and peered out the window. It looked as though it was raining papers, and my first thought was, whos on the roof throwing papers? Looking out toward the rest of the people on the semi-filled floor, Lo began to hear panicking voices saying, Weve got to get out of here!
Still in a state of confusion and having no clue that the first tower had been hit, Lo quickly followed a group of people from his floor toward the elevators on the 44th floor. I didnt even know where the stairs were. You generally dont walk up 73 flights of stairs, said Lo. While going downstairs, rumors of a plane hitting the first tower began to circulate. You just heard people saying that a plane hit the other building, and Im thinking a Cessna or a little prop planes wing clipped the building. Some people claimed to have seen the plane hit, while others couldnt remotely fathom what was happening. Regardless, thousands of people continued to walk down the seemingly endless flights of stairs.
When Lo finally reached the sky lobby on the 44th floor, masses of people were congregating from all different directions. We were all just kinda hanging out and talking. Everyone was asking whats going on and I heard someone say, A plane hit. It was an American Airline 767, and I actually laughed a little bit. Thats a jet! Thats a big plane! said Lo. I thought he was wrong. Suddenly, a voice came over the loudspeaker and said, The fire department is downstairs. Remain in the building. Do not go outside. Theres a fire in the first World Trade Center. Please remain put. If you want, you can go back up to work. Everything seems secure. After the message was announced, Lo proceeded to wait for an elevator back up to his floor, but it was the uncertainty of the word seems and the shakiness of the announcers voice that caused Lo to think twice.
Lo headed to the window to see what was going on outside, and, suddenly, there was another loud Boom, and the building began to sway. You could feel the building shifting back and forth and then I looked at the elevators and there was smoke coming out from the crevices, said Lo. Scared and with the building still swaying, Lo quickly walked with the rest of the people toward the 44th floor staircase and started to walk down. Luckily, the lights were still on and, to move faster, some women removed their high heels. I was trying to logically think of what happened. Why did our building just shake? The only conclusion Lo came to, while walking down the stairs, was that maybe it was the antenna from Trade Center One that may have toppled over and hit the second building. To him, this was the only comprehensible answer to what was happening. Terrorist attacks were the furthest thing from his mind.
With his feet uncontrollably shaking, it wasnt fear, but rather anxiety to get out of the building that was consuming Lo.
Finally, Lo arrived in the lobby, technically the second floor. He looked outside the huge glass windows. I looked out, expecting to see all these people, but it was a ghost town. When I looked out, it was grayness and a lot of debris, said Lo. While Lo was still completely bewildered by the apocalyptic scene outside, he observed a security guard escorting everyone to narrow escalators down to the mall, which was the bottom level. Everyone was exiting from the staircases going down, so theres this huge pileup of people trying to go down these two escalators that werent even working and it was like a traffic jam, said Lo. Cops were yelling, Dont Run! as the mass of people, including Lo, were escorted back up the stairs to the second level again. This time, I saw this guy and hes got a T-shirt on and its ripped, and his whole arm is singed, and Im thinking, what happened to you? said Lo.
Minutes later, he evacuated the building and looked up to see a cloud of smoke coming out of Tower Two. Cops were shouting, Keep walking! Keep walking! as Lo walked farther from the building, continuing to look up every so often. People all around were crying, and he overheard someone say that the Pentagon had been hit as well. Ironically, Lo found himself walking past a church cemetery. He stopped about 1,000 feet from the building. Cops were shouting, Dont use your cell phone! Dont use your cell phone! as Lo unsuccessfully tried to use it anyway. I felt pretty safe, but I also didnt expect the buildings to come down. So I was just watching.
Captured by the surrealism of the whole event, Lo watched as the fire trucks began to roll up. His next thought was, how are they going to put out the fire, because it was so high up? At that point, everyone was standing around, talking, and looking upward. All of a sudden, a cop shouted into a megaphone, Stand back! The buildings not secure! All eyes were fixed on the top of the tower. Lo watched as the building began to fall. All I thought was, oh my God, a bomb went off! People began to scream, and Lo, along with the mass of people, started running as the tower came crashing down around them.
Smoke and debris filled the air as Lo ran toward the Brooklyn Bridge. It was so scary because you could see the debris coming at you really quickly. You see pictures from the news of people running from the debris, and I was one of those people, said Lo. His next thought was that it was poison gas and that he needed to get away from it quickly.
At that point, Lo was running on the ramp headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge. The debris was clearing a bit; however, Lo now faced a new dilemma. Although he was running toward the upper level of the bridge, panic gripped him. Im thinking, okay, if they blow the bridge up, is it safer to be on the upper level or the lower level? If I have to jump, would I survive? Lo said. He then decided that he didnt want to be on the bridge and, instead, wanted to go uptown, but that meant that hed have to walk back into the cloud of debris. Choosing the first option, Lo continued onto the bridge, staying on the upper level. I thought, if the upper level collapses, it will collapse onto the lower level. At first, everyone was sprinting, then jogging, and, eventually, walking. There was a light dusting of debris in the air as Lo made it to the other side of the bridge. An unusual calmness swept over the crowd, which was occasionally broken by someone crying. I wanted to get off this bridge because I didnt feel safe, Lo said. Not realizing how big of an event this was and that the whole world already knew what was happening, Lo, after about ten tries, got through to his brother in Chicago. I dont know if you know this, but my building just got hit with a plane, and it actually just fell down, but Im safe.
Although Lo was safe, he wanted to be really safe and not on the bridge anymore. There was this sense of conformity. I wanted to run, but no one else was so I didnt. Once in Brooklyn, Los plan of action was to somehow get to the safety of his home. Without having to pay, Lo got on a bus that was heading toward Queens. All around him, people were talking about what had just happened, and this is when Lo found out that both towers had fallen. As he switched onto another bus, he heard over the radio that intelligence thought that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks. As Lo looked back toward Manhattan, all that he could see was a trail of smoke.
After a traumatic day, Lo made it safely to his house, and he called his parents, who were on vacation in Italy. I heard my moms voice, and she started to cry. Then I heard my dad crying. They said, You know its your birthday, and you had 300 angels escorting you down those stairs.
As humans, we are put here to learn and, with each day, were shaped into the people whom we will eventually become. Each experience that we go through in life will make us come to realizations about not only ourselves, but also about the people around us. September 11 was a day that opened many peoples eyes to the reality of the world and to their own mortality. This day acted as a huge lesson to us all, to not take any aspect of our lives for granted because you never know when it will be gone forever.
For Tom Lo, he realizes how incredibly lucky he is. Not only did he manage to walk out of the building untouched, he also didnt know anyone who died. There could have been a 100 what ifs and theyre all very close, said Lo. Im thankful to have my life.