I was in the World Trade Center when every New Yorker's worst nightmare came true. I was in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel, attending a conference by the National Association of Business Economists when the crystal chandeliers shook, there was a loud bang and the floor shook. Everyone ran out — there were people screaming everywhere. A commercial airliner had struck the 110-story building.
I went out the side door. Initially I thought it was a car accident. Then I looked up and saw Tower One of the World Trade Center in flames. It was clear there were hundreds of casualties. Everyone was on cell phones.
I'd lost my cell phone and laptop computer when I ran out the building. I went over to the Hudson River.
After I called in to my editor from 3 World Trade Center across the street, there was another wave of panic and people were running everywhere.
I went outside and saw Tower Two had been hit, right about in the middle. For a while, I just stared and watched with the other survivors as the tower burned.
As I was watching, I heard a gasp and an "Oh no!" Someone had just jumped or fallen from the top of Tower One. I saw three more people fall from Tower One.
There were people injured on the street, probably hit by falling debris. I kept walking, looking for a phone.
Around 9:40 a.m. ET or so, there was another wave of rescue vehicles rushing downtown.
I talked to some people who saw the second plane hit Tower Two.
I was about a quarter of a mile away when I heard people scream. I looked back and saw Tower Two was gone, and the sky was filled with plumes of smoke.
I eventually made it up to Greenwich Village, where a man named John Roccosalva was kind enough to let me and other survivors use the telephone and get a glass of badly needed water in his tiny studio apartment.
Another man, Ari Schonbrun, who works at the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, had been on the 78th floor of Tower One when the first plane hit. He said "everything went black, I was thrown to the floor." He said he had crawled to the hall and to the stairwell. Another man, Brian Conlon, was on the 37th floor. He was a survivor of the previous World Trade Center bombing. He said he was 15 flights down by the time the alarms began sounding.
I left the apartment and went to St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village about a half-mile north of the Trade Center where the scene was one of barely controlled chaos. Police are asking for volunteers to direct traffic and move vehicles. Hundreds of people are lined up to donate blood. Hospital officials say they have taken 112 casualties, no fatalities. That, of course, is just one hospital of dozens or scores in the area.
St. Vincent's said they had taken in 184 casualties, and two had died. Several others were "gravely injured" by burns or smoke inhalation, a hospital spokesman he said. St. Vincent's is one of two major trauma hospital's handling the most severely injured victims.
More than 500 people lined up to donate blood outside the hospital. Finally, a phalanx of half-a-dozen city buses lined up to take them to another location where they could handle the blood donations.
Police and volunteers are directing traffic on every corner in this part of Lower Manhattan, and emergency vehicles of every kind are screaming by, six hours after the first attack. The blue sky is eerily quiet and empty, except for the occasional roar of a fighter jet overhead.
I can't describe what it feels like to look to the south from Greenwich Village and see blue sky where the two towers once stood. New Yorkers are in mourning, and I know many share the feeling in the pit of my stomach -- like a part of our body has been ripped away.
And how do I describe a mass murder with so many hundreds of witnesses and survivors? I can only tell my story.