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'I walked out .... I made it out alive'


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2001

NEW YORK -- John Walsh chatted away with a colleague across their office on the 59th floor of 2 World Trade Center.

NEW YORK -- John Walsh chatted away with a colleague across their office on the 59th floor of 2 World Trade Center.

The 31-year-old Morgan Stanley sales representative was looking toward a window that offered an unfettered view of 1 World Trade Center.

It was 8:45 a.m. Tuesday.

"Behind her, I see a huge flash," Walsh remembered. "The building shakes, and the next thing you know, there's just millions of papers flying everywhere. One of our national sales guys comes out of his office and yells, "Get out! Everybody out!' "

Amid the confusion, the office made an orderly dash toward the stairway 20 feet away. When staffers opened the door, hundreds of others were already headed down.

Walsh escaped from the exact same place eight years ago, when the building was bombed. "They were talking as if they had done this before," he said. "Many of us had."

The calm would change to panic.

As they reached the 30th floor, a voice came over the loud speaker telling people the building was secure and it was their choice if they wanted to return to their desks. Walsh continued downward.

He had passed the 25th floor when he was shaken off his feet as a Boeing 767 struck the tower. People began screaming and yelling. Pieces of rock fell through the center of the staircase. Firefighters passed them on their way up the stairs.

"I was running down for my life, and they were on the way up," Walsh said, wiping away tears.

Through the smoke and broken glass, Walsh reached the lobby and saw Port Authority officials frantically guiding thousands of people out of the building. As people made it outside, New York police officers shouted to keep running.

Walsh ran two blocks with three co-workers in search of his sister. He found her standing on Williams Street in front of her building. They embraced, entered her building, went to her office and let family members know he was safe.

But as he talked, the first of the twin towers began to crumble to the ground, shaking the neighboring buildings and setting off a second panic. They raced to the emergency doors, where black smoke sifted in through cracks.

Walsh kicked open the door to a street filled with debris and dust. He could not see.

"I grabbed my sister's hand and covered my face with the other," he said. "We had no idea which direction to run, so we made a right and kept running. People were ducking from the dust and whatever was flying around."

They made it five blocks to the South Street Seaport. Police instructed them to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, a thought that frightened Walsh. Would a bridge with thousands fleeing the city make for the perfect target?

"But it was the only way out," he said.

He was halfway across the bridge about 10:30 a.m. when 1 World Trade Center collapsed to the ground.

"It all became real," he said. "When I saw the second tower fall, I realized I walked out of the hell zone. I made it out alive."

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