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Welcome to a special episode of Flash in the City detailing the tragic circumstances around the World Trade Center disaster.

Greetings From Ground Zero

For those of you who know me or read Flash, you know how excited I was about my recent move off Planet Dallas to the Big Apple. A new home, a great city, a new career, and a great apartment with views of the Hudson River, Battery Park and the World Trade Center.

That view will never be the same, both literally and figuratively.

Click here for the photo gallery.

We moved into 88 Greenwich, a 38 story building located at Greenwich and Rector, at the beginning of June. It is 3 short downtown blocks south of the World Trade Center. Our apartment is on the 11th floor facing the WTC. The only high-rise between us and the towers is a 40 story office building.

The day our view changed forever began ominously. Laying in bed half asleep after a late night of writing, we were jolted awake by the unbelievably loud whine of jet engines, followed by a sickening explosion we both heard and felt.

Jumping out of bed, we ran out on our terrace, convinced there had just been a plane crash. Once outside, we were shocked to see WTC North spewing smoke (pic). Turning on the news, we heard initial reports that a small jet had hit the tower. Thinking it was an accident and an isolated incident, we made a decision that almost cost us dearly; to go down there and take pictures.

Walking the few blocks to the scene was shocking. People were running down our street away from the buildings (pic). Debris was already everywhere even before the 2nd jet and the collapses, much of it on fire (pic1) (pic2). People were coming out of the towers (pic), but sadly, it didnít look to us like that many people were coming out.

We moved to the east side of the towers to see the damage to WTC North. We were on Church Street right next to the towers. From there we got our first look at the damage causing all the smoke. At 9:01, I took this picture of WTC North on fire (pic). As you can see, WTC South was still fine.

Suddenly, there was another roar of engines, less noticeable than earlier given the sirens and all the commotion. Then we watched in horror as a huge jet flew into the side of WTC South right above us and just disappeared, disintegrating into a tremendous ball of flame.

People screamed as debris rained down on us. We dove under the awning of the office building across the street (One Liberty Plaza) for protection. From there, I took two pictures at 9:03 as the explosion from the 2nd jet rocked WTC South and debris rained down (pic1) (pic2).

Dodging falling debris, we ran home past Trinity Church, taking these pix as we did (pic1) (pic2) (pic3) (pic4). Once home, we called our families to let them know we were okay on our home phone since cell phones werenít working. As we called, we took video and more photos from our terrace of the two burning buildings (pic).

At 10:00, WTC South started belching even more, darker smoke and the flames increased. Suddenly, we heard creaking and popping. Then, we watched in horror as the top third of the building shifted toward us and then collapsed upon itself. A tidal wave of debris roared toward us.

Running back into our apartment, we dove onto the bedroom floor as debris hit the wall of windows in our living room. If youíve seen Independence Day, the scene of the aliens blowing up New York cannot even begin to compare to the sight and horror of the real thing roaring at you.

Then, terrified that the collapse would trigger a domino effect that would topple our building, we ran out through the sudden darkness and down the emergency stairwell the 11 floors to the lobby, leaving everything other than the cameras in our hands behind.

What greeted us in the lobby was shocking. Smoke and ash had already permeated the lobby (pic). People who had been outside in the debris storm caused by the collapse were covered in inches of ash. Despite the horror and the fear, no one was panicking.

Not wanting to stay in the building in case of a collapse, we decided to brave the storm outside and run for Battery Park. Walking outside was like walking on another planet. Day had suddenly turned to night. Ash, debris and fire rained down all around us (pic1) (pic2). We ran through ash and debris a foot deep, snapping pictures blindly as we did.

Overhead, more jet engines roared. Not knowing they were U.S. F-16s there to prevent any more suicide attacks, we ran even faster thinking more attacks were under way but terrified because we had no way to know what was being attacked since we could barely see three feet in front of us.

As we got further in time and distance from the collapse, the storm abated and it became like being on the moon. Lauren stopped to take this picture of me as we approached Battery Park (pic).

Once we reached the park, we were covered in ash (pic). Breathing was extremely difficult as the air was full of smoke and ash. But in the midst of this terrible event, we saw a sight that amazed and heartened us; a U.S. flag flying in the middle of the park, the sun fighting through the deadly cloud above it (pic).

The momentary peace was disrupted when another huge roar erupted. We immediately realized that the other tower was collapsing. We took cover as best we could as another storm of ash and debris descended.

With the destruction of the towers, other shocked and dazed people escaping the carnage converged on the relative safety of Battery Park. Once there, though, we were effectively trapped. Manhattan is an island and the disaster to the north had cut us off from the rest of Manhattan.

The only way off was the Staten Island Ferry. But with the huge number of people streaming in desperate to get off the island, the number and frequency of the ferries was much too inadequate. They did their best, though, packing people in while still being careful to be safe so as to avoid a ferry disaster on top of everything else.

Then police said that the Brooklyn Bridge, closed due to the disaster, was open for pedestrian traffic to allow evacuation. The only problem was that this meant walking through the huge ash cloud streaming from ground zero. Despite that, innumerable people began the many mile smoke-filled walk to freedom.

People lined up on the pier waiting to be rescued (pic). Other people, many covered in ash, waited for friends and coworkers to hopefully join them in safety (pic). Overhead, jet fighters patrolled the skies to prevent any more attacks. And then the cavalry arrived; a fleet of tugboats pulled into emergency duty coming to evacuate thousands (pic).

Lauren and I didnít leave. First, being on a ferry/tugboat or bridge or any other potential target weíd be trapped on if anything happened did not sound attractive after the trauma of recent events. We preferred the relative open space and lack of high-rises Battery Park offered, despite the ash and smoke.

Second, and most importantly, all the boats were going to Staten Island, New Jersey or other boroughs in New York, not to northern Manhattan. We were afraid if we got off the island, we would not be able to get back. And we wanted to know if our building still stood. So we stayed, hoping to be able to go back to our home.

We walked back to check on our building. Police stopped us from going any further north than Battery Street. But as hours passed and the smoke abated slightly, we were able to see our building still standing. It is the light brick building behind Lauren with the white water tower on top (pic). The black building behind it to the left in the haze is the only high-rise between our building and the WTC. The WTC would normally tower above and behind our building.

With police telling us weíd not be able to go home for the foreseeable future, we finally went to the boats. At 3:30, five and a half hours after we braved the storm of debris from the collapse of WTC South to reach Battery Park, we boarded a tugboat bound for Midtown Manhattan and sailed away from the carnage. As we rounded the tip of Manhattan and passed the Brooklyn Bridge, I took one last picture of the forever changed skyline of Manhattan on fire (pic).

As I sit here writing this on a friendís computer in a friendís house on Friday, three days after the horrendous event, it still seems surreal. I saw horrible things that I will never forget: the sight of a passenger jet flying into the side of WTC South right above us; WTC South collapsing in front of us. Both times, we thought we were going to die.

I will never forget the sight of police and firemen running to the scene as they made sure we got safely away, many of them dead now. Iíll never forget the firehouse at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty, right across the street from the WTC. We had walked past that firehouse innumerable times, saying hi to the firemen sitting outside. They were the first on the scene and from what we have heard, completely wiped out.

Terrible things. But there were just as many wonderful stories we witnessed. Obviously, the bravery and selflessness of the police and firemen. But the actions of the average citizen were just as special. Once again, despite the terror and rumors, no one panicked. Everyone joined together to help others out. Water was given and shared. The injured were helped and evacuated. Cell phones that got through maybe one out of a hundred attempts were passed around so people could call loved ones. Money was passed out so people could use the one pay phone working down there.

Iíll never forget certain people. The worker from American Park Restaurant who kept running out with wet napkins to put over your nose and mouth to help you breath and then returning to get more to pass out. When they ran out of napkins, he started bringing out tubs of ice to the parched, ash-covered survivors. He did this for hours in the ash and smoke.

The large pregnant woman in a wheelchair who, unable to get through the debris to safety, had been carried down to Battery Park by two small, middle-aged women while a third grabbed the wheelchair. When we helped get her on a tugboat, it took three men to get her over.

The policeman who greeted us at 34th Street on the East River where the tugboat dropped us off. When he saw me wearing the torn remnant of my t-shirt (from tearing it to make masks to help us breathe), he gave me his t-shirt.

The numerous people we didnít even know who upon hearing our story offered clothes, a place to stay, etc. And, of course, the friend who we are staying with until we can get back to our home.

The feelings are numerous and complex. Sadness at the tragedy. Pride at the triumph of the human spirit. Guilt at thinking about our brush with danger and worrying about our apartment when so many people have lost so much more. It will take time to work through them all, but I think we will all be better people because of this reflection.

Thanks to all those who left messages and sent e-mails expressing your concern for us. They have helped us get through this tough time. While we still donít know when weíll be able to get back to our apartment, or what weíll find when we get there, we are just thankful to be alive when so many are not so lucky.

And while the view from our terrace may have changed, our opinion of this city hasnít. It is a great place to live, with great people, even greater than I knew just three days ago. I wouldnít want to live anywhere else. New York City, USA.

Click here for the photo gallery.