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The Daily Tar Heel

Letter To The Editor

I graduated with my MHA and MBA in May from UNC and enjoyed my summer off from work. Yesterday, I was in a training class on my third day on the job at Merrill Lynch, about one block due east of the WTC. About 10 minutes prior to 9 a.m., we heard a huge boom, and felt a shock from it. The senior executive who was speaking to us said "I don't know what that was, but it wasn't good. ... That sounded just like it did when they bombed the World Trade Center." No one was laughing, because we just couldn't imagine how loud the noise was -- it made us believe that it could have happened again. About a minute later, we were all stunned when someone informed us that a plane crashed into the center. We dispersed and made our way to the windows of the 21st and 22nd floors of our training center, which faced the west side of the towers, and saw the north tower burning vigorously. We were all trying to contact our families to let them know we were OK, but most of our cell phones wouldn't go through. So, we took turns using a land line phone in the room. I personally watched several men jump from the building, one every few minutes, leaping from near the fire, close to the top of the building, and saw them fall all the way down. Soon after, we heard another huge boom and saw an immense explosion that spread eastwardly toward us and turned out to be another aircraft flying into the south tower. Unbelievably, we felt the heat through the windows from the fireball. At that time, our fire wardens evacuated our building and we went to the street, walking down the fire stairs 22 floors.

Once on the ground, I saw that the explosions had broken out some of the large banking center windows on the first floor of our building, as well as other merchants' windows on Ann Street at Broadway. Many hundreds of people were on the streets watching the drama unfold, as was I. Many people were hysterical. Some people were running as fast as possible away from the area. Several were taking pictures with disposable cameras they had purchased from merchants who were now closing up shop. By 9:45 a.m., all stores on the street were closed and had their metal gates pulled down.

At one point, someone ran through the crowd shouting that a bomb was in the area and had yet to explode. Some of the crowd began to run away faster, but the bomb scare turned out not to be true and most stayed put. Meanwhile, dozens of police vehicles, marked and unmarked, were racing to the scene down Broadway, as were dozens of paramedics and ambulances and fire engines of all descriptions.

The huge, mobile New York City mayoral command center set up directly in front of my building. Police began to direct pedestrians off the street and onto the sidewalk as more and more emergency vehicles came to the scene. Shortly thereafter, one police van filled with 10 or 12 officers almost knocked us off the sidewalk to park there. Just prior to 10 a.m., with my 200 banking colleagues standing around the scene amongst all the confusion and chaos, it was clear that there was no way that we were going back to work or back in the building, so I decided to get out of there and head home towards my family, despite not hearing an official word from my employer. I was able to reach my mother-in-law in Huntsville, Ala., on my cell to let her know that I was out of the building and to call Lisa, and to tell her that I was walking north with hundreds of other people. Separately, I could hear the police at this time starting to tell people to leave the area as it was being closed down.

After several blocks, I jumped down into the subway for what I hoped would be a quick trip to Grand Central Station where I would try to hop on a Metro North train home, if they were still running. The subways were still running north, and I was able to make it to Grand Central. Just when I arrived there and made it to the main concourse, ready to take any train going out of the city (and I mean any train), an announcer came over the PA and said "Attention: Please evacuate Grand Central Terminal at this time ..." Many people started running, fearing a bomb. I exited the building at 42nd Street, where there were other people arguing with police about not being able to get inside for trains. Still thinking about getting home but also hearing that all bridges and tunnels had been closed, a train was probably my only option, and if I could get to the 125th Street station (the first stop on Metro North) where they might be waiting, I should be able to catch one. I also thought about getting as far north in Manhattan as possible. I could walk over a bridge into the Bronx where Lisa could come pick me up, or I could catch a car.

I turned right out of the station and walked up Vanderbilt Avenue, where I only stopped to hear on a work truck's radio updates about what was happening. Basically, I was trying to get away from the train crowd and find an unoccupied cab, as I wanted to get to 125th, or points far north in Manhattan, as soon as possible. I did find a cab about six blocks away and jumped in. We turned north on Park Avenue and were stuck in traffic for some time. I realized that I only had $9 in my wallet. Once we made it to the 60s, traffic eased and I was able to direct the cabbie to an ATM. We found one at Lexington and 72nd or so, and I went in as he waited outside with the meter running with instructions from me to not let anyone else in the cab. There were 20 people in line for the ATM, and the bank branch decided to close due to the tragedy. I met two people in line who were trying to get north as well, and I brought them with me to the cab when I left. So, we continued northward and finally arrived at 125th Street. Police were guarding the entrance but directed us to where we might catch a northbound train up a rear stair. Discovering from a train official that trains may be on their way, we went back downstairs, paid the cabbie and considered what to do next. The two people I was with at that time were so nervous about being in Manhattan, they chose to walk across the 1st Avenue bridge into the Bronx rather than wait any longer.

I felt good about a train and went back up to wait. Up on the platform, transit officials kept us well informed and we learned that three trains were coming from Grand Central, filled with people who were stranded on the trains when the station was closed, to take us up each of the northern lines. After taking another look back at the billowing smoke coming from lower Manhattan where the towers used to be, I boarded the New Haven line for Darien, stood up the whole way, and thanked our train engineer at my station with a handshake. Several families were there to meet their loved ones. The most striking thing about my station was that the parking lot was still full. I had made it onto the first train out after the attack.

I am still sick about those eight men I saw jumping out of the building -- they had no hope of survival. Their families now have no father, husband, brother or son. Not to mention all those firemen I saw who first arrived on the scene. They rode and looked at us with wonder about what awaited them. According to numbers we are seeing on television, half of them didn't make it. Another thought -- as so many of us were trying to leave the downtown area -- my Nigerian cab driver, the people I met and rode with in the cab, the grandmother I stood with on the platform and the train, all those on the train platform, the people I stood with listening to the car radio on the street, the janitor I walked with from Grand Central, many others. We were all the same at that moment -- helpless, scared and in complete disbelief.

My family was pretty happy when I made it home. I heard that many of you had called throughout the day to check on us and we appreciate it very much. Mary-Margaret, after being told by Lisa about what was happening and then seeing me said "I'm glad you weren't hurt, Daddy ..." Me too ...

Michael Alexander Crabb III
UNC MHA, (`01),UNC MBA, (`00)
Now working on Wall Street

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