Shocking news of terrorist attacks disrupted class, awoke students and worried parents as the work day began Tuesday. Once personal safety was accounted for, thoughts turned to relatives and friends even closer to tragedy than GW’s proximity to the Pentagon.
Many students frantically called New York City hoping to talk to loved ones working in or near the World Trade Center Tuesday morning. Firsthand accounts emerged as phone lines cleared and reunited students with brothers, sisters, parents and other relatives.
Senior Jason Buchsbaum was woken by a frantic call from his mother, who was alarmed by the news at the World Trade Center. His brother was working on the 51st floor of the tower first hit by a commercial plane. He escaped minutes before the building collapsed.
“It was like every horror movie you ever saw,” Danny Buchsbaum said, describing the scene at 9 a.m. He said he was in a meeting when he “heard a large explosion.”
“The tower shifted and it was like an earthquake. The tower just shook,” Buchsbaum said, adding that he did not know what caused the noise or shaking at that point.
A fire marshal for TradeWeb, Buchsbaum said he was responsible for making sure everyone got out of the office as debris, dust and smoke fell around him.
As Buchsbaum and coworkers descended the stairs, he said, injured people came down behind them, and everyone had to occasionally move aside for firemen to come up.
“There were some people who were literally burnt to a crisp,” Buchsbaum said. He said most people escaping the building walked unaided because rescue workers could not make it up the building far enough to help the injured.
Buchsbaum said he was later informed that a second plane crashed into the south tower while he was in the stairwell, but he didn’t see or feel the impact because it was on the opposite side of the building.
Once at the bottom of the tower, Buchsbaum said, he walked through about six inches of water and saw elevator doors blown apart.
About five to 10 minutes after he evacuated, Buchsbaum said, the south tower collapsed.
“I got about a block and a half away and I saw the towers in flames,” he said. “Then I saw World Trade Center number two collapse. People were screaming `run for your lives.'”
Buchsbaum said he ran from a cloud of smoke that would have killed him if he got caught in it.
“We ran as fast as we could, and we basically got far enough away so the cloud didn’t catch up with us,” he said. “One of the reasons they didn’t want us to look up was because people were jumping from the top of the World Trade Center burning alive.”
While the evacuation was fairly calm and organized, Buchsbaum said it was very unfortunate for those trying to help.
“All those guys who were directing us and all the firemen that were going up – they all died,” he said.
Buchsbaum said the whole incident still had not sunk in for him when he spoke to The Hatchet Wednesday.
“I know people who didn’t make it. I still haven’t processed this whole thing,” he said. “It’s a heck of a way to get a day off.”
Buchsbaum said he spoke with his wife after about two hours of jammed phone lines and saw her and their 11 month-old son for the first time at about 8 p.m. that evening.
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about anything except getting the hell out of there,” he said.
Sophomore Ankur Modi said his father works in the building across the street from building number seven as an electrical engineer for the New York City Housing Authority.
When his father heard the first plane hit, Modi said, they would not let him out of the building. By the second hit, everyone ignored the orders.
“My father said everyone was jumping out of the flames,” Modi said.
Modi said his father was a couple of blocks away when the building collapsed. He saw fire, debris and parts of the plane on the ground.
“The worst part was when I woke up at 11 . one of the buildings was gone,” Modi said. “And for the next three and a half hours, you couldn’t call in or out.”
Modi said he only received a message from his mother saying she did not know where his dad was. His father was finally able to call for one minute from a bystander’s cellular phone in Penn Station to tell his wife he was OK. He was trapped in New York for 10 more hours until he was able to take the ferry home to New Jersey.
“It was a big relief,” Modi said. “For three and a half hours I thought he was gone.”
Junior Jessica Marshall said her father also works very close to the World Trade Center. He heard the building shake, but didn’t know what it was. He was amazed to see a plane go straight through another tower, she said.
Marshall said her worries multiplied when word of the Pentagon strike reached her.
“I was neurotic and overreacting,” she said. “I put my sneakers on in case I needed to run.
“You never think anything like this could happen,” she said. “(An attack) was as easy as that?”
Marshall’s boyfriend, junior Daniel Mauser from Mexico, said his parents panicked when they heard about the strikes.
“The only thing you think about is the people you love,” Mauser said.
He described the scene on streets around GW as eerie, as people gathered around cars listening to the latest news on the radio like it was the 1940s.
“You don’t want to believe it because they put the idea in your head that the United States is invincible,” Mauser said, comparing the situation to scenes from the movie Independence Day.
Sophomore Cheryll Williams said her brother works at The Gap in the basement of the World Trade Center. Her grandmother said her brother had called and said he was OK.
“He’s alive, that’s all I care about,” Williams said.
Sophomore Lars Bildman thought his father had boarded American Airlines flight 11 flying from Boston to Los Angeles, which later crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center buildings today. He later found out he was wrong.
Many students said they are worried about flying at all. But, junior Sam Stetser’s father can’t afford to have such fears because he flies for a living. As a pilot for Delta Airlines, he was supposed to fly Wednesday, but the flight was canceled. Stetser said the hijackings make him very worried for his father’s future safety.
Freshman Tasneem Abuali said she knows people may blame her as a Muslim for the attacks.
“If the lesson was learned in the Oklahoma bombing then, no, I am not worried about my safety or that people will jump to conclusions.,” Abuali said. “But if the lesson was not learned then, there is always a chance. But I am here, and not running home. I am not going to be paranoid.”
-Drew Wiseman and Mira Katz contributed to this report.