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Two UA alumni describe downtown chaos

By Arek Sarkissian II

Friday September 14, 2001

When two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center early Tuesday morning, a routine day at the office for two UA alumni working in Manhattan turned into a firsthand experience with the horrors of terrorism.

One alumna said the shock people felt when the first explosion occurred changed to panic and screaming when people found it was an airplane that had struck the tower.

Vanessa Francis, a 2001 graduate of the University of Arizona, said she was one block away from the World Trade Center when the first of two planes struck the towers.

Francis, who lives in Brooklyn, arrived at 8 a.m. for a routine day at work at the Verizon Building.

"I was in my office when people downstairs started screaming to tell me the whole top floor of one of the towers blew up," she said.

Francis said about 150 people who ran out of the tower after the explosion ran to her building intending to call people in the tower that hadn't been hit yet.

"I called 911 and asked them if we should evacuate our building, and they said they didn't know what to do," Francis said.

She said the most horrific part of the event was watching people jump from the area of the tower that was on fire.

She said police and fire officials were running toward the buildings as everyone was running the other way, and that they were possibly some of the victims buried by the rubble of the towers.

Francis added she and others tried to use the subway but after traveling a short distance, it was shut down and evacuated.

"Once the towers collapsed, they told everyone the train was being evacuated," she said.

Monty Phan, a 1996 graduate of the UA was reporting the event for Newsday, a New York newspaper. He said his reporting assignment changed from technology to news after Tuesday's event occurred. He was waiting for a telephone repairman when he heard of the attack on the radio.

"I was assigned to St. Vincent's Hospital - the hospital being used to care for the wounded - and as I was walking, I heard the first tower collapse," he said. "Then I heard the second one."

St. Vincent's hospital is about two miles away from the site of World Trade Center.

Phan said he had just moved to Manhattan from Long Island over Labor Day weekend, and although his office is on Long Island, he had been assigned to Manhattan.

He said the majority of the area's streets seemed deserted.

Heavy winds from Wednesday night left the upper area of New York City covered in a cloud of smoke.

"The smoke had the same smell as a camp fire and had the same effect - making peoples' eyes watery," he said.

Francis said for other areas of the city, it was business as usual.

"No one ever goes to that area of Manhattan unless you're a tourist or you work there," she said.

Both Francis and Phan are former reporters and editors at the Arizona Daily Wildcat.


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