9/11: The Survivors of the South Tower

Over 90% of the workers and visitors who died in the twin towers had been at or above the points of impact. The media reported: “In the North Tower 1,355 people at or above the point of impact were trapped and died of smoke inhalation, fell or jumped from the tower to escape the smoke and flames, or were killed in the building’s eventual collapse. A further 107 people below the point of impact did not survive. In the South Tower, one stairwell remained intact allowing 18 people to escape from above the point of impact. 630 people died in the South Tower which was fewer than half of the number killed in the North Tower. Casualties in the South Tower were significantly reduced by the decision of some occupants to start evacuating when the North Tower was struck”. There were many stories about 9/11 survivors. One of the stories that is told is about the 6 fire fighters who survived. They are known today as the Lucky Six. ‘They survived because of one reason; they were helping. A grandmother from Brooklyn, was trying to get out of one of the Trade Tower buildings. She wasn’t walking well (her office had been on the73th floor) and was exhausted when the firefighters came across her as they were heading down to the lobby. They couldn’t leave her there so they began to help her down to the lobby. There was a big boom. The South Tower had just collapsed. When they were on the fourth floor, she couldn’t go any further. Then everything started to heave. The North Tower started to go down. Then it was noisy, things began to fly around, and there were gigantic dust clouds. They were hurled around for a moment and then the wreckage settled with them in it. There was no way out. But then they saw that, for some reason, the second-floor section of the staircase was still there! The firefighters placed a harness around her and slid her down. Remarkably, all seven got out alive. Faster or slower, they might not have gotten out, but at that pace they did’, the media reported. After the first plane hit the World Trade Center it is likely that many others in the South Tower were likewise told to stay inside. “The advice to stay inside was to avoid the deadly rain of debris already falling from the North Tower. But Instead of heading for the “safety” of his own office, Wadja phoned his mother who advised him to “just run, run, run -get out of there”. “I’m glad I listened to her because otherwise I might have just stood their watching, stunned and not knowing that it was going to get worse.” Wadja had started to run away from the scene when the second plane crashed into the South Tower, housing the office to which he had been directed only minutes before. “I kept running and I kept thinking to myself ‘why did I stop to look – I wasted minutes”. But many others, Wadja remembers, stood stunned and staring with amazement. They are likely to have been among the victims crushed when the towers collapsed half an hour later”, the media reported in 2001. Another good story is the long story of Bran Clark. Here are excerpts of his story:

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“Brian Clark worked on the 84th floor of the south tower, in the offices of Euro Brokers. He was one of several fire wardens on the floor, meaning he had been issued a flashlight and trained in how to evacuate people. After the plane slammed into the south tower, [The plane enters from 78th to 84th floor, from the south side], he encountered a number of other survivors from Euro Brokers, including Bobby Coll, Dave Vera, Kevin York and Ron DiFrancesco. Only Clark and DiFrancesco would survive, as Coll, Vera and York decided to go up in the stairwell, instead of down . On the way down, Clark heard someone from the 81st floor screaming for help. Clark found that man, Stanley Praimnath, and saved his life. Finally, on the way down in the stairs, Clark and Praimnath encountered Jose Marrero, a facilities manager for Euro, who was headed up the stairs to try to help Dave Vera. Marrero also died. Clark says: ‘When the first plane hit, our group of fire wardens started yelling to get everyone off our floor and most of our people did start down. But then we started to get news from the televisions around our floor that it was the other building, not ours. The remaining people began to linger. I would guess that perhaps 40 of our people were still on the floor when the building announced, ‘Building Two is secure’. Some of our people actually returned to our floor after that announcement . I was totally surprised. I was in a conversation two to three feet away from a gentleman named Bobby Coll. He had told me that after the first plane hit, he had gone down but with the announcement he had come back up with Kevin York. There was sort of like a double noise, like a bang, thump. With the second thump everything just fell apart in our room. The first noise was the impact; the second noise was the explosion and the shock wave of the fuel igniting. I went into what I’ve called a football ready stance, like a linebacker. We sort of spread our legs and braced ourselves, hands out for balance. Well, it was just a reflex. We’re talking and then all of a sudden it’s like this. And part of it is almost, in a way, a reflex to duck what might be falling from above, you know your hands go up and ready to protect yourself, that sort of thing. It was those first 10 seconds after impact that were the only time I was terrified the whole day. My sense was that our building swayed a long way toward the Hudson River, to the west. I was used to it swaying in the wind a bit. And then it stopped and then it came back to vertical. And there was no back and forth. It didn’t vibrate, that sort of thing; it didn’t oscillate. And at the conclusion of that 10-second period, I immediately sobered up. I had my flashlight in my pocket from when the first plane impacted, and clicked it on, because we’re suddenly in darkness and light dust everywhere, like construction dust, not black smoke from an explosion, even though there was a fireless, smokeless explosion in our room. That’s what it felt like: an explosion without fire. Doorframes fell out of the wall. Some of the raised floor even buckled and that was like concrete slabs on pylons. That again could have been part of the torque, I don’t know. But light fixtures and speakers and stuff dangled from the ceiling. And I clicked on my flashlight and we started down this hall. And when we got to the center crossroads I could have gone any of three directions. For whatever reason I turned left and went to Stairway A. There was a group of seven of us. And I can’t remember all the names, even though I know everybody. Kevin York, Bobby Coll, Ron DiFrancesco for certain was in there. And David Vera, another of the fire marshals. So we are going down, and we met a heavy-set woman coming up from below who just was insistent, and spread her arms and almost wouldn’t let us go by. She was on the half landing between 80 and 81. She said, ‘Stop, stop, you’ve got to back,” walking up toward us. ‘You’ve got to go back. The floor below is all in flames and smoke. We’ve got to get above it.’ And we got into a debate. I had my flashlight and I went from face to face. Whoever was talking, I shone the flashlight at. I was not involved in the debate initially. I actually didn’t even make a comment. And in the midst of this debate I heard this banging, and a voice calling, ‘Help, help, I’m buried. Is anybody there? Can anybody hear me?” And miraculously -I’ll say it that way- I concentrated on that voice as the others were deciding to go up. And I grabbed Ron DiFrancesco by the shoulder and I said, ‘Come on, Ron, we’ve got to get this guy.’

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“I recall seeing David Vera with his walkie-talkie, and Bobby Coll and Kevin York – each had a hand under the heavyset woman’s elbows saying, ‘Come on, we’re in this together. You can do it.” So they were being good Samaritans. Based on the data they had they were doing the right thing. And up they went. I went in with Ron and the flashlight was sort of cutting through the fog. We’re into the floor and this voice was calling us, directing us to him. He kept guiding me until all of a sudden I could focus on him. It was strange how close his hand was when I got there. It was so dark. I just had my flashlight. I think it was pieces of desks or doorways, doorframes, that kind of thing that was restricting him. It was some heavy stuff. He could stick his hand through a hole of some sort. And as I approached him, he was screaming, ‘Can you see my hand? Can you see my hand?” And I couldn’t until I was literally less than a yard away from him. Ronny was overcome with the smoke. He had been using a gym bag or something to cover his face, but it wasn’t doing him any good. And I can remember seeing him sort of squint and crouch low and back off the floor with an agonized look on his face. I was, again miraculously, in a bubble. I can remember squinting a little bit but it was as if I had this bubble of clear air around me. I wasn’t coughing at all, breathing normally. And the trapped man had been crying, ‘Help, help, I can’t breathe.’ As soon as we got to the man, Ron disappeared. He went back to the stairway and I didn’t know what happened to him at that point. [Ron went up the stairs, then went down, getting out of the tower just before it fell] I guess it took me 30 seconds to a minute to get most of the stuff away from the trapped person, until this last thing we couldn’t move. That’s when I encouraged him to do the jumping. I reached over the top and I looked at him and I said, ‘You must jump. You’ve got to jump out of there.” He jumped once and I couldn’t connect with him. He jumped again and I grabbed him. I pulled him over the top and we fell in a heap and hugged. I said, ‘I’m Brian,” and he said, ‘I’m Stanley,” and we made our way back to the stairs. Some of the firewall, or maybe it had come from ceilings, I don’t know, had blown in on the stairs. Sheets were lying, or leaning on angle up against the railing. So we had to move those. Some were lying on the stairs. Water seemed to be dribbling out somewhere, I don’t know where, and making the stairs wet. And it was running sometimes on this drywall that was lying flat on the stairs making it like a slide. So we had to be very careful. We were holding onto the railing, hand-over-hand, kind of going down those slippery areas because we were standing on slippery drywall. Somewhere around the 77th floor, the stairway walls were cracked, and you could look through the cracks and see flames. They were just quietly licking up, not a roaring inferno. And there was some smoke there, but again I think the stairs were pressurized, pushing the air out so we had less smoke in the stairway than you might imagine. We didn’t encounter anybody until the 68th floor. We are now in fresh air, lights on, normal conditions . And on the 68th floor we came across Jose Marrero [who dies]. Jose had taken some of our people down into the 40’s and 30’s, other witnesses have told me later. And I said, ‘Jose, where are you going?” He was alone, carrying his walkie-talkie. He said, ‘I’m going up to help Dave Vera, I can hear him on the walkie-talkie.” I said, ‘I’m getting this man from Fuji Bank out (Stanley was all cut and bruised.) Dave’s a big boy. He’ll fend for himself. Come on down with us .” But he said, ‘No, no, I can help him. I’ll be O.K.” I said, ‘Well, all right.’ Stanley and I continued down and our next encounter was at the 44th floor. We went in and we met a security guard. He quickly said, “Do you have phones?” And when I said, “No,” I asked him why and he said, “Well, I’m with this man who’s injured.” And I looked down behind his booth and there’s this man with massive head wounds. Stanley recalls something about his back being missing or something. I don’t recall that, thank goodness. But he said, ‘I’ll stay with this guy, but you’ve got to promise me that you’ll get a stretcher and medical attention for him.” We said, ‘We’ll do our best.” And we left him. So there’s a hero, an unsung hero that nobody really knows about. He was one of the blue jacketed World Trade Center or Port Authority security guards. He was an older man. I’m guessing he was at least 60’s. He could have been 70. He was certainly mature. And this other man was on the ground moaning in pain. How he got his head wounds, or how he got to the 44th floor, I have no idea. Didn’t ask. It was normal conditions there. Just two people there. Just eerily silent. ”

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Electricity was on [the 44th floor], but the phones weren’t working. Now, why his phones weren’t working and yet they were working on 31, I don’t know. We went back to the stairs and started down once again, still seeing nobody. We went in on the 31st floor . (That was just a coincidence, because 31 was the floor our offices used to be on in 1 World Trade Center.) We got into a conference room or something. I called home, told my wife that I was fine. Stanley called home. I don’t believe his wife was home. And I called 911 and I had quite a session getting through to somebody who would actually take my message. I mean, there were some real delays there, very frustrating. I finally sort of read them the riot act and said, ‘Look, I’m just telling you this once, don’t put me on hold because I’m going to hang up when I’m finished.” And I did that and we left. My guess is that we were on that floor between four and five minutes. Back to the stairs and we went all the way down to the plaza level where we came out on the north wall facing the plaza. And it looked like a moonscape. Fortunately, I didn’t see any carnage. I wasn’t aware of it. There were broken windows that maybe blurred my view. But we were looking at something that looked like an archeological find that had been abandoned for 100 years. We went down a flight of escalators and we casually walked through the revolving doors and along the hallway past some shops. And that’s where we started to see firemen who were quietly going about their business. There was no running or panicking, and it was not densely filled with authorities at all. Some of them were walking around, putting on their gear . When we got to the south entrance of Building 4, a policeman at the door warned us: ‘If you are going to cross Liberty Street, you had better run for it. There is debris falling from above.” I snuck out and looked up. Seeing nothing coming down, I told Stanley, ‘If you’re ready, let’s go.’ And we ran across Liberty Street and head south on Greenwich Street. We stopped at a deli. That’s the first stop. And I asked the deli owner, I said, do you have water? And he said, yeah, sure. They were just staring up at the towers. So he went in and came out with some water and a breakfast platter: sliced cantaloupe and sweet rolls and the cellophane. And he said, ‘Here, nobody’s coming for this today.” And I said, ‘Thank you.” And we walked to the west side of Trinity Church. There’s a bridge there that comes out of the backside of the church. And underneath it there were two ministers, and that’s when Stanley more or less broke down. ‘I think this man saved my life.” And I said, ‘Stanley, I think you might have saved mine, too. You got me out of that debate.’ And the ministers gave a prayer and said, ‘The church is open if you want to go inside.” So we looked at each other and agreed, ‘Why not, yeah, let’s do that.’ We walked around the south side of the church, but halfway up the hill on Rector Street, we stopped and looked up at the burning Trade Center towers. Stanley said he thought the tower might fall down. I said, ‘No way. That’s a steel structure..”. I didn’t finish the sentence when it started to slide down. And we stood looking at it while it did it. And we stood staring but not believing quite what we were seeing. And at that time, I thought only the top third of the building had fallen. We didn’t run immediately because we didn’t realize this dust debris was rolling down the street. It wasn’t until it kind of went literally up and over the church, that’s when we started to run. And I still had the darn fruit tray, the breakfast platter. I felt like an idiot when I realized I had it in my hand, but I’m running down Broadway holding the thing. You’re not thinking. We ran down Broadway to 42 Broadway, dove into the lobby, and stayed there for 45 minutes. Stanley gave me his business card. And we got to know each other a little better and just stayed in there. We left the building and wandered eastward toward the FDR Drive. Somehow, we got separated. I’m screaming, ‘Stanley! Stanley!” And I couldn’t see him. And I’m running back and forth with my hand up in the air, “Stanley.” And he was gone. And it was a bizarre feeling. And then that feeling swept over me, ‘My God, Stanley isn’t real. He was an angel sent to get me out.” And then I realized, there was his business card, so I knew he was real.”

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