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Then the building stopped wobbling. I stood up, grabbed my briefcase, and headed for the emergency exit. The floors were not right. They looked normal, but I felt I was walking on slanted boards. I saw a colleague come from what I thought was one of the offices, although later I found out he was coming from the coffee room. *Get out, now!* he yelled.

 

I reached a door leading to a hallway. Through the door's glass window, I saw a mess of what looked like a metal beam or beams, concrete, maybe ceiling debris, a chaos of junk, and it was all on the other side of the fire door. I knew I would not be able to reach the fire escape.

 

I started thinking, *I'm alive. I want to get out of this building alive.* Reevaluating what I might need and worried the briefcase might inhibit my escape, I took out the cigarettes and put them in my pocket. Running back to my desk, I tossed the briefcase on my chair, thinking I could retrieve it in a few weeks. At the time, it wasn't an unreasonable idea. After the bombing in 1993, people were allowed to retrieve their belongings after a few weeks.

 

Then I headed for the other emergency exit. I reached another door and, as I started to touch the handle to check for heat, I realized I could just barely see through the window on the door. What I saw was a lot of debris and a thick white mist. But I could see the emergency exit and thought I could make a dash through the debris and get to safely to the exit. I succeeded. I reached the fire escape stairs. But as soon as I got in the door, I noticed a huge deep crack in the wall opposite the door. *My God, the building is splitting apart* is what went through my head. The floors and stairs still felt slanted. I went down the stairs as fast as I could. I didn't want to twist an ankle or break a leg, so I was not exactly running. Just moving as fast as I could. No one else came through the emergency door behind me. I passed floor after floor but no one came through the emergency doors on those floors either. I was alone. There was no one behind me. And for awhile, there was no one in front of me. Finally, after several flights, I started to run into people. I think I was somewhere between the 50th and 55th floor when I stopped seeing those giant cracks in the wall. The stairs and landing finally seemed level. But I was still thinking there was a good chance I wouldn't get out alive.

 

Traffic down the fire escape stairway started getting slower. It was very frustrating. I just wanted to get out of the building. All my senses were telling me we were living on borrowed time.

 

We reached the 44th floor. The 44th floor was the Sky Lobby and elevator exchange. You had to get off one elevator and get on another if you wanted to go further up -- or further down. At this floor, we had to exit our staircase to get to another one. The staircase door was closed. As they came up to it, people stopped, which forced everyone behind them for several flights up to stop as well. The people close to the door didn't know what to do next. They were afraid to open it. No one up front wanted to make a decision. They kept hesitating, and others behind them started getting impatient. Finally, a collective command from a good portion of the crowd forced the issue. We weren't going back up. People started going through the door.

 

All along the way, women took off their high heels in order to walk down the stairs more easily. Little piles of cast off high heels tossed to the side grew into larger and larger piles the further down we went.

 

The temperature rose the closer we got to the ground floor. I began to sweat. So did several people around me. I think we were all thinking the same thing -- that we were descending into a fire. People carrying briefcases and the growing piles of shoes started making me feel angry. Then my anger dissolved as I realized that no one had expected this, and that I myself had almost carried my briefcase down with me. But adrenaline was still coursing through my body. We couldn't move fast enough. An announcement came over the PA system, informing us that our building was safe and there was no need to panic, but if we wanted to exit the building to go ahead and do so. That got a lot of laughs. People started cracking jokes about it.

 

As we went down, a couple of emergency workers came up. A maintenance guy relayed a radio message that medical assistance was needed up on the 80th or 82nd floor. People were nervous, but no one was panicking. Some even stopped to rest. I couldn't rest. I picked my way around them, careful not to push or shove anyone, but anxious to keep going.

 

At about the 20th floor, I began to think I might survive. I'd be hurt, maybe badly, but I might survive. I wasn't sure, but I thought perhaps a fire ladder or rope might reach as high as the 20 th floor. That gave me hope.

 

Finally, we reached the bottom. It was odd. Eerie. Everything looked familiar in an unfamiliar way. We went through the doors. I was disoriented, then disappointed when I realized I was still not at ground level. We exited out into the concourse level.