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Eyewitnesses Recast WTC Disaster

(cont. from leadstory page 1)
How does one react when the sunny weekday morning turns into a scene similar to that of Hamburg in 1944 and Dresden in 1945? Is there a way to switch ones mind from taking care of daily work duties to trying to survive the war-zone nightmare of the Manhattans Lower West Side on Sept. 11, 2001?
Jason Grossman and Chris Koufomihalis, clerks at the American Stock Exchange, had no more than 15 minutes after they arrived to work before the beginnings of the hell began breaking loose.
"I was inside the building when the first plane hit," Grossman told The Queens Courier. "I came outside to see what happened."
Koufomihalis was on his way upstairs and found out about the first strike from TV coverage. When he came outside to join Grossman, the picture they witnessed was not a pretty sight.
"There were body parts on the ground," Grossman said. "Office chairs, airplane seats, clothing, all covered in blood. All the glass in the cars parked nearby was gone."
Both were still outside when the second plane struck the second tower.
"I heard the sound similar to a sonic boom," Grossman said.
"We didnt stick around to see more," Koufomihalis told The Queens Courier. "We took off running."
Grossman and Koufomihalis jumped back inside the building where they debated for a while whether to get out of the area altogether or to remain in a relative safety of the AMEX building. When the first tower collapsed, the decision came naturally.
"We knew we had to get out of here," Koufomihalis said. "It seemed like it (the tower) was falling right on top of us. Honestly, Im surprised were still alive. I will never forget the sound of that building falling. The ground was shaking."
Coming out the door, the two met with chaos.
"The smoke was coming in. I just covered my face with a shirt and ran out," Koufomihalis said. "It was pitch-black outside. There were debris everywhere. We couldve been stepping on bodies for all I know."
Once the two made it out of the vicinity of the WTC, they struck out south through Battery Park looking to reach the FDR Drive and cross into Brooklyn using one of the East River bridges. The picture of mass exodus of frightened people from Lower Manhattan they described put in mind the picture of thousands of people fleeing the bombed-out cities during the World War II.
"There were thousands of people walking up FDR," Grossman said. "The police was directing the foot traffic." A few cars still on the highway stood abandoned.
"We already passed the Manhattan Bridge when we looked back at where the towers stood," Grossman said. "The sky was completely covered with smoke. It looked like a huge black cloud that came all the way down to earth and spread all the way into New Jersey."
As the two took the bus from Brooklyn to Jamaica, their ordeal began to sink in.
"I still cant believe both of them are gone," Koufomihalis said, visibly shaken.
Another eyewitness of the two-pronged aerial attack that has brought down both towers of the World Trade Center sounded like a slightly cynical onlooker when he told the first part of his story and like a shell-shocked survivor of a bombing raid when he reached the second part of it.
Robert Sjoberg, sheet metal worker at Seabreeze Sheet Metal in Brooklyn, was working in a building on William St., only six blocks away from the Twin Towers, when the first plane crashed into the southern tower.
"There was a loud bang sound, like a garbage compactor truck upending a metal garbage bin," Sjoberg said describing the first hit. First we thought it was, actually, a garbage truck. Some of us joked around that its a bomb. Then people started sticking heads out of the windows or looking up and saying My God! Only then we realized it was serious."
While people were gaping at the scene of the disaster, with some already grabbing cell phones to call their friends and loved onesmobile phone connections became a virtual impossibility later in the daymore were coming from the side streets, their houses or hanging out of windows trying to get a glimpse of a smoking hole in the southern tower.
"Some said it looked and sounded like a missile, but others said it was a commercial plane," Sjoberg said. "We were feeling bad alreadysome people had tears in their eyesabout the people hurt and their relatives." Still, nobody had an inkling that this was any more than a terrible accident. But "after the second one hit, you knew something was going on."
Talking to the onlookers, Sjoberg missed the second plane approaching the northern tower.
"All I saw was a flash and another bang, and then a rolling ball of flame," Sjoberg said.
Along with the others, Sjoberg watched what looked like scores of people leaping from the windows of the stricken buildings.
"From where I was, it looked like debris falling down, not people," Sjoberg said. "But its possible that people were actually able to get to the outside windows."
Sjoberg, who worked inside the World Trade Center before, said certain maintenance rooms and stairwells have access to the outside.
After the second strike, Sjoberg said, the instinct of self-preservation kicked in.
"I packed up my tools, went to the elevator, came down and headed away from the area," Sjoberg said.
For many other people, realization still has not come. They were treating the disaster as a macabre show.
"Lots of people stayed," Sjoberg said. "There also were a lot of people heading toward the World Trade Center, about as many as were going away from it."
Same as in case of Grossman and Koufomihalis, the rest of Sjobergs story put in mind the plots of the survivors of the area bombings during WWII trying to escape the zone of devastation.
"First, I wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge," said the Brooklyn resident. "But then I thought it could be bombed, too. So I hitched a ride as far uptown as I could and decided to take my chances from there."

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