Every Day is a Gift

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by Sonya Powell

Arriving to work on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 to the South Tower of The World Trade Center began as a typical day. After putting my walking shoes and purse into a secure place and putting on my heels, I turned on my computer at 8:45 a.m. to begin my work. A moment later, the building shook. I looked out of the nearest window and saw fire balls, smoke and papers flying around outside. I assumed a news helicopter had crashed and just went back to my seat. Moments after sitting, I got really hot, especially on the back of my neck.

I decided to go downstairs (92 flights) to survey the situation as I was too uncomfortable with what I was experiencing. On my way down, I crossed paths with a co-worker, Amina, who was also headed down to the lobby for similar reasons. She and I joined many others in the stairwell to begin our descent. We chose the stairwell due to the numbers of people waiting for elevators.

We walked from the 92nd floor to about the 46th floor when we heard this announcement from the Fire Marshall, “There has been an accident at Tower 1, next door. Your building is secure. You may return to your office.” Frustrated, we, along with hundreds of others, had to decide whether or not to return. My friend Amina wanted to keep going down to exit the building. I, on the other hand, wanted to go back to my desk, get my phone, and maybe change my shoes because my feet and legs were sore after walking down nearly 50 flights of stairs in my heels. We agreed to go back upstairs.

There were hundreds of people waiting for elevators. We took a remote corner elevator that Amina knew of and were able to squeeze in front. I pushed the button for the 92nd floor. The doors did not close. So, I pushed the “close doors” button repeatedly, eager to get back to my desk. Suddenly, the elevator lights blinked on and off, the elevator began to shake, and the doors would try to close, but would not. Two men used their elbows to force the doors open enough for everyone to exit the elevator. There was mass hysteria! Those in the back of the elevator pushed forward knocking me and Amina out onto the floor. Once I got my bearing, I realized the building was leaning, as if it would topple, but then it would recover and lean back. This kept happening. We had no idea, but it was at this time that a plane was crashing into our building, 25 floors above us.

Firefighters led us down a stairwell and out of the building. Hundreds of firefighters were passing us going up to help those at the crash level as we descended the stairs. Once we were on the street, police kept repeating this statement, “leave the island, don’t look back and don’t come back!” 10 minutes later, the building collapsed. We were walking across the Brooklyn Bridge when the North Tower collapsed.

Amina and I speak every year on 9/11. We are so grateful to the firefighters and other first responders who sacrificed their lives.

18 years later, life is beautiful!

Every day is a gift.

Sonya Powell
Adolescent Math Teacher and Transition Coordinator


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