Editor’s note: After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, we spoke with survivor Chris Hardej, who had family connections with our area, for an article in Woodstock Times. Ten years later, we spoke again for a retrospective that appeared in that paper. We checked back in with Hardej [pronounced ‘Hardy’] for Hudson Valley One this week, on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy. Here is the original story, from September 13, 2001.
The view from the 82nd story
Chris Hardej, of Bensonhurst, was sitting at his computer with his back to the window on the 82nd floor of Tower No. 1 at the World Trade Center Tuesday morning when he heard a “semi-long swooooosh, like an air rush and it rocked the building, like a thump, but didn’t knock me out of my seat.”
The 41-year-old Hardej, a Senior Transportation Analyst with the State Department of Transportation, and the brother-in-law of Shandaken resident Vinnie Cortina, turned to look out the window, which did not shatter, and saw what he recalls as a lot of paper and metal fragments, shards, floating down.
“I’m also a military person. Instinctively, I recalled that I should hit the deck,” said Hardej on Wednesday, “to protect myself from anything that would come through the window. So I crawled to the middle of the office, to get away from the window.
One of my co-workers tripped over me and he said, let’s head for the exit. The lights were still on at this time. I suspect the plane entered somewhere in the upper 80s, low 90s. Being a flyer, I did not hear the engine noise. I knew the weather was beautiful, so it wasn’t an accident but I don’t recall actively hearing the engines.”
“So we tried to make our way to the exit. One of our employees was by the emergency stairs yelling ‘Come to my voice…’ He kept on yelling that. Even though our office was lit, the hallways were dark and starting to fill with smoke. When we got to his voice, the stairs were lit up. As we started down the stairs, I noticed that there were not many people in the stairway yet. It was relatively calm and easy getting down to about the 60th floor. Then due to all the people leaving the lower floors we came to a standstill. I found out later that the other plane hit the other building. I don’t recall noticing it in the hallway.”
Back in Woodstock: “I’m sick to my stomach,” said Ian Pallak, from behind the counter at the Corner Cupboard Tuesday, where people with blank faces agreed the attack was devastating and frightening.
Pallak said he was worried for “my friends in the city, that’s my main concern,” adding that one friend of his works as a security guard at the World Trade Center.
Pallak said he was also concerned about racism that may be spurred by the attack, presumed to be perpetrated by Arab Muslim fundamentalists.
Outside, some high school students let out of class early talked about Arabs and “Sand Ni**ers.”
“This is worse than Pearl Harbor,” said Mike Kramer, standing outside Woodstock Design, on Tinker Street.
Kramer said he received a phone call from his brother Steve, who, before hearing an explosion outside, heard the first plane flying low over the Manhattan building where he was painting an apartment. The call was cut off early, Kramer said.
He’s afraid people will lose their civil liberties, as the government tries to prevent future terrorist acts from happening.
Elli Michaels, artistic director for the Bird-On-A-Cliff theater company said she had to miss work Tuesday, otherwise she would have been in the middle of her daily exercise routine — swimming in the Marriott pool in the Trade Center complex, when the planes struck the towers.
“My biggest concern is, why are we doing this to one another?” said Michaels. “Why are people hating each other so much that they can make this happen, and how can we make it better?”
On the phone: “I’m filled with horror. We still don’t have any idea of how enormous the loss is. And I’m fearful of what the military reaction is going to be and I wonder about what I’ve heard from some of our government people saying there may be some infringement on our civil liberties, but it’s all basically a big unknown. We haven’t been here before. Some of those shots, don’t they just look like special effects of horror movies. I was watching and saw live the second plane hit the tower.” — Meg Carey
Hardej continued making his way down the stairs.
“All this time there were some communications throughout the stairs, port authority people with radios. As we slowly made our way down to 45th, a transfer point, a sky lobby, we were directed to another stairwell. That’s where I got separated from the others in my office. The other stairs weren’t moving so we were directed back to the original stairs,” he said. “As we were going down past 35th floor, that’s when we started seeing some firemen making their way up. I recall hearing a story of a person in the elevator coming out on fire, as I assume the fuel [from the plane] went down the elevator shaft.
Around the 35th floor, I noticed that every 10 floors for the fire department were breathing floors. There was a smashed Snapple machine there and the people were passing up drinks to the firemen to keep them hydrated.”
It was still orderly going down the stairs.
“All we knew at the time, was that a plane hit the building and the building was built to withstand the impact and it did.”
Hardej said that people saw no reason to panic at that point.
“There were two rows of people slowly making their way down the steps, stopping at every floor because of the number of people trying to get out. We’d have to move to the right to let the injured come down. One man was burnt from the waist up, a woman who was burnt walking under her own control, but like a mummy. Also, there was a guy coming down with a seeing-eye dog. We made way for him, too.
I recall, on the 20th floor, a lot of the firemen seemed to be winded, as they were walking up. Totally understandable, with equipment and hoses on their backs. I remember thinking they had 60 or more to go.”
Photo fascination: Hannah Heinrich, 18, was on her way to class at the Parsons School of Design, where she is a sophomore. Heinrich, of Nyack, has a mother who lives in Woodstock, where she came right after leaving the city.
“I was coming around the corner of 13th street, and I heard a loud crack, like a crack of lightning. And it was like a fireball coming out of the trade center, I guess the northern building. I don’t even know what I thought. I stood there for a minute then I remembered that I had my camera with me. I’m a photography major. So I started to take the pictures and then the second plane crashed, at around 9 o’clock. My whole entire class was standing there on the sidewalk. I stood there for maybe 25 minutes, then I started running — towards the building because I thought I could get a better photograph or see if anyone needed help, but people were running away and traffic was stopped. I called my father and he advised me to take the first train out, because they were going to lock down the city. I ran and took the subway to Grand Central Station, ambulances buzzing around. There’s a place in Grand Central called Hudson News and when anything important happens everyone crowds around and looks at the TV monitors. So I just snapped a few pictures there.
“It’s all registering slowly. I’m a lot more freaked out now than I was yesterday, recapturing things in my mind. Reading the headlines of the paper is the scariest thing.”
Heinrich’s photos are used on the cover and in this article. She ran toward the building, taking pictures? Send this woman to journalism school, then have her report to the Woodstock Times.
Received by e-mail: Yesterday in Lower Manhattan was beyond belief, the faces of the hordes of people walking uptown to who knows where, with a collective dazed expression, is something I have never seen before… Along with the horrors seen on TV, the threat of the “Noxious Cloud” blowing over my neighborhood here in downtown was on my mind as well. Also the fear of — is this over? Is more horror to follow in the way of attacks?
Woke this morning wondering if it was a dream. No such luck. The day after is almost as surreal as yesterday, especially with this perfect weather here in NYC. All of lower Manhattan is in virtual lockdown. You need ID to get in or out. Thought about driving up to the Catskills but it isn’t worth the try from the lower Eastside. The lack of many survivors coming into area hospitals has officials fearing the worst in terms of deaths. They are barging bodies over the Hudson into NJ. — Frank Dunn/ NYC/Big Indian
It took Hardej an hour to reach the lobby.
“When we finally got down to the 12th floor things started to open up. We started going down quicker. The floor started to get wet. When we got to the lobby I recall stepping into an inch or two of water. I recall seeing doors on the elevators twisted and mangled and it did look like a bomb scene. I did see one elevator of firemen going up to the 45th floor. At least they got a ride part way,” Hardej said.
“With all the stopping in the stairs, it took me an hour to get down. I recall feeling relieved to walk out of One World Trade Center, but it was only just starting.
One thing I did notice was that although One World Trade Center had no lights, there were lights on the concourse. I recall going through sprinklers. A little way down the concourse, I heard a tremendous rumbling and crashing and again something similar to that whoosh, that rush of air, behind me. That was building No. 2 coming down.”
The local target:
Almost immediately after the Pentagon was hit with a hijacked airliner, Joe Boeck, local head of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s Ashokan Reservoir, got a call to close down all roads crossing or adjacent to city water supply.
“All I can say is that the order to close came from high above me,” Boeck, a longtime veteran of the agency, said. “Similar security measures were instituted at all of the city’s reservoirs.”
Boeck explained that road closures, which will remain in effect until an as-yet-to-be-determined future date, currently involve Reservoir Road in Olive, from Van Steenburgh Lane to Monument Road and Route 28A, and the entirety of Monument Road.
He would not say whether any additional measures were being taken to protect waters coming into the reservoirs, or the Basin Road area along the reservoir’s southeastern shore.
“We know this is inconvenient and we’re not happy about closing these roads,” Boeck said. “As soon as we’re told it’s safe to reopen everything we will. These are trying times.”
Over at reservoir Road and Van Steenburgh Tuesday, DEP Officer Michael Hinchey said that he had originally set up a roadblock on Route 28 but moved it in closer to the Dividing Weir so as not to disrupt traffic. “We’re keeping people from driving over the water just now,” he said. “People are being very understanding.”
“The phone’s been off the hook all day with people trying to get home,” said Olive clerk Sylvia Rozzelle on Tuesday. “People were calling from work in Kingston with rumors that Route 28 had been closed, so we were trying to direct people how to get back home. Everybody’s in shock. We just hope it’s over.”
Olive Supervisor Bert Leifeld said he had been given no word about when the reservoir bridges might reopen.
“They’re always worried about a terrorist attack on that dam, even before all of this,” said Leifeld. “They’re a little paranoid about that, so they just want to keep traffic off of it. So we’ve beefed up our police force because they’ve sent state troopers down to the city, so we’ve had to pick up the slack in town.”
Received by e-mail Wednesday: The streets of midtown New York are nearly deserted. I went out to get the paper and there were a few people pouring out of Penn Station, fewer cars on the street. I ambled across 7th avenue against the light at 8:30 in the morning. For those of you have spent any time in NYC, that is particularly weird. To the south there is a gap in the skyline which registers, if only subliminally. Jeff and Susan [children] watched the horror yesterday, three blocks from the Towers. They are still essentially speechless.
The city has requested people not come into Manhattan, and those in the outer boroughs and suburbs seem to be listening. The zoo is closed (except for essential personnel, and since I feed no animals, I am not essential), so I’m at home. In a stroke of predictability, the WCS server went down last night.” — Joshua Ginsberg, Ph. D Director, Asia Program, Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo
In the Trade Center lobby, Hardej confronted more horrors.
“The concourses connect, and the building falling was pushing a wall of air and debris through that concourse. As I turned around and saw that wall coming toward me, I had to think quick. I didn’t want the ceiling to cave in and crush me, so I was looking for the closest support beam. As I was running to that marble support beam between two stores, the windows from the stores were bulging and blasting out, from pressure or the rumbling,” said Hardej. “I don’t believe there were any bombs in all of this, it was just from the planes. As I grabbed hold of that wall, it finally sandblasted me with these fiber particles. At that time everything goes black as electricity went. You couldn’t breathe for two or three minutes as that wall was nothing but dust and particles. I had taken my shirt off coming down stairs to put it over my mouth. But that didn’t help. After a while, it did dissapate enough to breathe and my night vision started to let me make out some stuff in the dark. The rumbling was still going on above as Number Two was probably hitting the plaza. I was praying that the marble on the beam above me would not come down and take me out.
“Coming down the stairs I was with two people who I worked with. They were on the floor in the middle of the corridor and we could not see each other. I heard one guy call my name and told him to come toward the light. He could not see that light, cause he lost his glasses. He came to my voice. They both came to my voice. I could barely make out enough to walk gingerly through the debris and avoid the large signs that fell off the ceiling on to the floor. There was some official shining a flashlight saying come to the light. I could not see it, but I came to his voice. At the same time there was a lady who had taken off her shoes, and she couldn’t not walk because of the glass all around us. A guy next to me gave her a piggyback out.
“Eventually I did see the light and continued toward him. When we finally got out of the building on the side of the initial impact, I recall seeing at least a foot of debris everywhere. Although I don’t recall stopping, I remember telling my two fellow employees we have to get out of there. We walked north. I knew my wife would be concerned, and based on previous training, I knew if I get on camera, word would filter out to my family that I made it out of there. As we walked north and I got seven blocks away, that’s when the other building came down. I don’t recall watching it, as my concern was getting away from there.”
On the financial scene: Bruce Tuchman, Senior Vice President of Salomon Smith Barney Kingston office, says, “Fortunately, from the perspective of the stock market, it was closed prior to the incident. If the market hadn’t been closed, it would have been closed, to allow cooler heads to prevail to avoid panic.
Everybody is on hold, from an American point of view. Portfolios are going to remain static. When things open again, what’s going to happen as has happened when catastrophes occur around the world, people put money into defense stocks, based on circumstances around the world. Money will be put into construction, glass, security at airports, self defense.
What happened today was totally out of control.
Stocks that will do negatively will be insurance companies that have to foot the bill. The airlines will be hurt by this. There’ll be certain negative impacts.
Then there’s the general investor who will say I don’t want to be in the market, and maybe he’ll go to T-bills, cash or gold.
We’ve been going down for a year-and-a-half now. We’re already in a negative situation. A lot of companies are selling very cheap already 8, 9 10 dollars a share.
Marginal companies will be hurt. Technology companies might get revenue, as systems have to be rebuilt in the city.
Headline mania: But the newspaper business was booming. There was not a paper to be had in uptown Kingston by mid-morning. The Uptown Cigar Company reports that its New York Times and Wall Street Journals had been looted from in front of the store even before it opened. The New York Times main headline said ‘U.S. Attacked.’ The Daily Freeman called it ‘Another Day of Infamy;’ The Poughkeepsie Journal quoted President Bush with ‘Nation Saw Evil.’ The Albany Times-Union said ‘Freedom under siege,’ while both the New York Post and the Times Herald Record of Middletown called it ‘An Act of War.’
Hardej had a long walk home.
“After we were clear of the area, one of my fellow employees broke down, but he reminded me of all the firemen that were in there, and my prayers go to at least the 35 firemen I saw going up there. As we continued up north, my main focus was to get word to my wife. Since the city was closed down, I knew I had to walk into Brooklyn. I stopped at NYU to use the bathroom and there was a medical team and station set up there. The only injury that’s apparent to me was getting pelted by those fine fiber particles. My friend had some of them in his eye.
“I just feel extremely lucky. We were 30 to 100 feet below the initial impact, lucky that we were protected from the building coming down directly on top of us. And that we had a 25-minute window to get out of the complex from the concourse to a safe distance before the last building came down.
I walked over the Manhattan Bridge three miles into Brooklyn, where there was a subway running, made a phone call to my wife which was the first she heard I made it out of the building. This was about 1:30 p.m. Anyone who saw the pictures and knew that we were on the 82nd floor, thought I was a goner.”
On the phone: “I was supposed to be taking my daughter, Sofi, to Newark to fly to the West Coast yesterday. Her flight was at 5. I put on NPR in the morning, was downstairs making coffee and they were talking about it, and that was when we thought it was an accident.
We’ve never watched so much TV in our lives. And I think about all the people that called to make sure we were OK, because they knew that [Sofi] was flying. There were like about 13 calls. That’s the only good thing I can say about it, that reaching out of friends and family and that kind of feeling connected. Have you noticed how everyone uses the word horrific? Guiliani used it early on.” — Johanna Hall
Local law: State police sent 500 troopers down to New York City beginning yesterday afternoon, according to Capt. Louis Barbaria, who commands the state police for Ulster and Greene counties. Of those 500, 17 are from Ulster and Greene counties. “We don’t see a threat locally. Right now all our efforts are focused on New York City and in finding survivors down there. We’re not abandoning Ulster County,” said Barbaria. All troopers are now on 12-hour shifts to better cover our region. The county and local police departments have also instituted 12-hour shifts. Reservoirs have been closed off by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and state troopers are checking in with officers there, as well as making sure that Hudson River bridge crossings are secure.
On the phone: We left 64th St. and heard the FDR Drive was closed so we went up 3rd Avenue to 96th and it was like a disaster movie, no other cars on the road, deserted. On the Harlem River Drive there were few other cars. The upper level of the George Washington Bridge was open, but the city was deserted and people were walking around traumatically. We went to a coffee shop for breakfast and I got a bottle of water and a tray and dropped the bottle and the guy in front of us picked it up for me. Everybody works together in a crisis. When you see the ball of smoke, its horrifying, reaching up 1500 feet, it’s not like it was on television — Roger Kahn
Hardej’s local relatives had little hope.
“We were sure he was dead,” said Cortina, on the phone from Shandaken Wednesday. “I think we didn’t find out until maybe one or two in the afternoon. My daughter is 12, and we told her the truth. She came home from school about 12:30 and she knew Uncle Chris is in there. I’m thinking, he’s dead, he’s dead. There’s no way he could have made it out of there.”
Hardej is still a little numb.
“Several fellow employees that we haven’t accounted for. We think half of them are a breakdown in communications, but there’s a possibility that several of them didn’t make it. I don’t know if I’m hardened or if the impact hasn’t hit me, but I’m feeling relatively OK. I’m reporting for my National Guard unit tomorrow evening. I always said I’d rather be lucky than good, and based on recapping this, I definitely feel very lucky.”
Brian Hollander, Julie Gibbs, Rachel X. Weissman, Paul Smart, Jonah Bruno, Jim Gordon