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One Woman’s 9/11 Story, From The WTC

Story from US News

I Survived The Sept. 11 Attacks — Here’s What I Want You To Know

Margaret Lazaros
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Editor’s note: It has been 16 years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Refinery29 has chosen to share the voices of women who survived, as well as those who lost loved ones so that we may never forget. This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
It was a beautiful, sunny day with a clear blue sky and not a cloud in sight. I took the express bus down to the city that morning with my younger daughter, Megan. She had just started high school in Manhattan, and the ride there was a typical one: She listened to her iPod, and my mind raced with all the things I had to do that day.
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But as Megan got up to get off the bus at her stop on 72nd Street, she turned to me and said something completely out of the ordinary: “Mommy, I don’t want to go to school today. I don’t know why, I just don’t want to go.” I was stunned. This was something I had never heard from her, not even when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for leukemia a few years before. She had never once wanted to stay home from school.
“I love you, Mommy,” Megan said as she made her way to the door. I managed an “I love you, too, honey” before the bus pulled away and headed downtown toward the World Trade Center, where my office was.

I was standing in the aisle by my desk chatting with two coworkers at 8:45 a.m. when the first plane struck our building.

I arrived around 8 a.m. and went to my office on the 27th floor of the north tower. I was standing in the aisle by my desk chatting with two coworkers at 8:45 a.m. when the first plane struck our building. The impact was so great that I immediately looked up, expecting to see the ceiling coming down on top of us. It wasn’t.
Frantic, I turned to my coworkers. “Oh my god, something happened; something really bad happened. We need to get out of here!” I shouted before running down the aisle to where our other coworkers were standing, unsure of what to do or where to go.
Photo courtesy of Margaret Lazaros.
Margaret Lazaros with her daughters about 15 months after she survived the 9/11 attacks.
Although we had practiced thousands of fire drills, we had never left the 27th floor. We had always been told that if anything were to happen, someone would come over the PA system and tell us what to do. But we heard nothing. We were basically on our own.
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I ran back to my office to get my bag. The phone on my desk rang and I answered it. I could hear my friend, Marie, who worked in the Albany office, on the line.
“Oh Marie, something really bad happened,” I told her as I grabbed my things.
“Run! Just run!” she responded.

Although we had practiced thousands of fire drills, we had never left the 27th floor. We had always been told that if anything were to happen, someone would tell us what to do.

It was then that I knew the situation was dire and we had to move fast.
We had no idea what to do. We didn’t even know which stairwell would take us all the way down and out of the building. We picked one, felt the door — it wasn’t hot — then opened it. We saw people from the floors above already walking down. We got into the stairwell with them and started walking. It was a very eerie and somber experience. We were so scared. We had no idea what had happened or what was going on. The stairwell was dimly lit, and the dust particles made it difficult to breathe. I started coughing, and one of the men that I worked with gave me a handkerchief to cover my nose and mouth.
Photo courtesy of Margaret Lazaros.
Lazaros with her grandchildren at a recent Mother’s Day celebration.
We got down about seven or eight flights, and suddenly, firemen appeared. They were loaded down with equipment — ropes, axes, and heavy raincoats. They told us to remain calm, keep walking, and that someone at the bottom of the stairwell would tell us what to do next. We were so grateful to them, and asked where they were headed. They responded that they were going up to the higher floor to get underneath where the fire was. We told them to be careful, and then we kept on walking. We didn’t know at the time that these courageous men would lose their lives that day.
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It took us nearly 45 minutes to walk down the last 20 floors. We had no idea that a second plane had hit the other tower as we made our way down.

It took us nearly 45 minutes to walk down the last 20 floors. We had no idea that a second plane had hit the other tower as we made our way down.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs and exited the stairwell, I had no idea where we were. It looked like some old subbasement that was in shambles. It took me a minute to realize that we were in the lobby, which, only an hour before had been filled with people bustling across its marble floors on their way in to work.
What I saw instead was unbelievable. The tiles had broken off the wall, and the floors were covered with dust and debris. We struggled to find a way out, but someone told us which way to walk. When we exited the building, a man told us: “Run across the street and don’t look back!”
I looked at my feet, which were surrounded by red puddles. Look at all that red paint, I said to myself. Then my brain switched gears and I realized it was blood, not paint. I had no time to think about what that really meant as I ran across the street and into the mass of people who were also running. Everyone looked stunned and in shock. People were crying and calling out the names of their friends and coworkers.

Before I could figure out what was happening, I heard a tremendous roar, a sound unlike anything I’ve ever heard before or since. Right before my eyes, the south tower began to melt down to the ground.

I turned to look at the World Trade Center. There were gaping holes in both buildings. Black smoke was billowing out of the holes. But before I could figure out what was happening, I heard a tremendous roar, a sound unlike anything I’ve ever heard before or since. Right before my eyes, the south tower began to melt down to the ground. It was like watching one of those TV demolitions — it just seemed to come down right on itself.
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We started running. We were crying and screaming, frantic to get out of there. The smoke and dust was everywhere, and the cloud was moving towards us. Someone behind me was pushing me, and I was so afraid that I would fall and be trampled by the crowd. I was crying, shouting, “Please don’t push me!” It felt like we were living in a nightmare.
That’s when my friend, Amy, grabbed my hand and led me down one block and around the next to get us away from the smoke and dust clouds. She knew the area well because her family lived in nearby Chinatown. She led me to a funeral parlor owned by her family member, and they let us use the phone.

As I hung up the phone, I heard another tremendous roar in the distance. I turned around to see the north tower collapsing down on itself.

I called home, but no one was there. I could only leave a message saying I was okay. Later, I found a public phone and managed to make two more calls. I paged my older daughter, who was working at a nearby hospital, and I called my sister.
My sister answered. She was so relieved to hear from me, and kept asking over and over: “Are you okay?” I told her I was fine, and that I had to get uptown somehow so I could get Megan from school. As I hung up the phone, I heard another tremendous roar in the distance. I turned around to see the north tower collapsing down on itself. The horror of the day just kept continuing.
I began my walk uptown, more than 70 blocks. It was such an eerie journey. Huge crowds of people were walking, and yet it was so quiet. Everyone looked somber and in shock. Stores were giving out water and apples to the people making their way uptown.
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It took me quite a while, but I finally made it to Megan’s school. She had eventually managed to get through to her father, who told her that I was okay and was coming for her, but she was so upset. When we got outside, I told her I had to sit for a few minutes. My feet were bleeding, and I was exhausted.

I began my walk uptown, more than 70 blocks. It was such an eerie journey. Huge crowds of people were walking, and yet it was so quiet.

Megan wanted to switch shoes with me. She told me to take her sneakers, and said that she would put on my sandals, but I told her no. She asked, “Mommy, how are we going to get home?” I told her, “We’re going to start walking.” So, again, I walked — this time, another 20 blocks, and with my daughter. Along the way, we stopped at pay phones to call home and find out if there were any buses or trains running.
When we reached 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, I found out that some trains were running, but only a few stops at a time. We figured that it was better than nothing, so we went down to the subway station and got on the first train that was going uptown. It took us a few stops; then we got off and got on another train. Finally, at about 5:45 p.m., we reached the train station closest to our home.
My family and friends had been calling all day; everyone was so worried. My godson came over to see me — he said he had to see me with his own eyes to believe I was really okay. My older daughter was stuck on Long Island, as they had shut down the bridges. She stayed at my sister’s house until they reopened. She finally arrived home at around 10:30 p.m., walked into the house, sat on my lap, and sobbed.
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I have never been back down to the World Trade Center. I don’t think I can ever return.

During the next several weeks, we attended many funerals for coworkers, friends, neighbors, and firefighters. It was something we had to do to try to begin to heal. We had to say goodbye and pay tribute to those who lost their lives on this tragic day. It was so hard to return to work. My company had grief counselors come speak with us, and that’s how we began the healing process.
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day I will never, ever forget. We do and should remember those who perished. As for the rest of us, the survivors, we have learned how to deal with it as best as we can. I have never been back down to the World Trade Center. I don’t think I can ever return. I keep all of my memories of that day in my heart all year long, and on every Sept. 11, I bring them all back out, front and center, to deal with them again. I listen to the reading of the names and say a prayer for those who died. Then I put all my memories back into my heart, and go on.
Photo courtesy of Margaret Lazaros.
Lazaros with her two daughters on Mother’s Day.
I don’t know why I was one of the lucky ones to survive when so many others died that day. I remember seeing images on TV of children walking up and down the streets near the World Trade Center in the days after. They were looking for their parents who had never come home that day. All I could think of was that it could have been my daughters looking for me.
I have to think that there was something more that I had to do with my life and that’s why I’m still here. I am so grateful to be here with my family and friends. I will never forget what happened to our country that day, and all of those we loved and lost.

This story was originally published on September 7, 2016.

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10 Years after September 11

A Social Science Research Council Essay Forum

  • About the Forum
  • Essays
    • 10 Years After September 11
    • After Sept 11: 2001 Essays
  • SSRC Home


List View   Grid View

Contributors

  • Kamran Asdar Ali
  • Jeffrey Ayres and Sidney Tarrow
  • Rajeev Bhargava
  • Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira
  • Richard W. Bulliet
  • Bruce Cumings
  • Veena Das
  • Dorothy E. Denning
  • James Der Derian
  • Richard Falk
  • Jack A. Goldstone
  • Wang Gungwu
  • Elemér Hankiss
  • David Held
  • Dick Howard
  • Alisher Ilkhamov
  • Kanishka Jayasuriya
  • Mary Kaldor
  • Barbara D. Metcalf
  • Peter Alexander Meyers
  • Margaret Mills
  • Haideh Moghissi
  • Farish A. Noor
  • Olivier Roy
  • Luis Rubio
  • Saskia Sassen
  • Neil Smith
  • Marita Sturken
  • Jeffrey Wasserstrom
  • Pnina Werbner
  • I. William Zartman

Pakistan’s Continuing Dilemma

Kamran Asdar Ali

In May of this year, when Osama Bin Laden was revealed to have been living in the tranquility of a suburb in Abbottabad, a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s premier military academy, it again brought to the surface underlying tensions between the Pakistani and American governments. The relationship between the militaries of the two countries is an old one, and the mutual suspicion is not new either. […]

From Global Civil Society to Global War: A Decade of Disequilibrium

Jeffrey Ayres and Sidney Tarrow

A decade ago, coming off of parallel research projects on what some were then calling “global civil society,” we responded to a request from the SSRC that we contribute to an online forum on the impact of 9/11 from our work on transnational contention. […]

The 9/11 Syndrome: Europe, Islam, and Muslims

Rajeev Bhargava

The rest of the world should be grateful to Western civilization for having given it the concept of human rights. There are some things we cannot do to others, not because it is God’s command, because we will go to hell or earn spiritual demerit, but because of certain capacities that people possess. We cannot harm others because this is what we minimally owe them. This realization does not entail the idea of human rights as supreme, something over and above all other values in every context and at all times. […]

September 11, Ten Years On

Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira

Ten years ago I argued in this space that under global capitalism, wars among major nations no longer made sense and that the turning point from a world where the great countries were permanently threatening each other with war to a world of international economic competition had been the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. War made sense while there were real winners and losers—while the winner could reduce the loser to a condition of slavery, or impose taxes on its new colony, or incorporate its territory. […]

9/11: Landmark or Watershed?

Richard W. Bulliet

Was 9/11 a landmark event or a watershed event? I started posing this question to friends and students soon after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and urged them to keep it in mind as they watched the fallout over the passing years. […]

Reflections on September 11, Ten Years After

Bruce Cumings

It is a rare opportunity to be asked to reflect on an essay written a decade ago, now with the benefit of hindsight—of knowing what has happened, rather than anticipating what might happen—and with the tempting prospect of saying “I told you so.” But the truth is that the meaning of September 11 continues to recede just as the tenth anniversary arrives, or remains as difficult to fathom now as it was then. […]

Since September 11, 2001 . . .

Veena Das

A decade of intense theorizing on the forms of violence and human degradation, on global connectivity, on demands that scholarship be done in “real time” . . . a sense of urgency . . . disciplines are aggressively asked to prove their relevance . . . a deep disquiet on the part of many radical scholars and public intellectuals that the American public is increasingly becoming complicit in projects of warfare. We ask, are our senses being so retrained now that we cannot see the suffering of others or hear their cries? […]

Whither Cyber Terror?

Dorothy E. Denning

Ten years have passed since G-Force Pakistan, a group of Pakistani hackers with a history of defacing websites, announced the formation of the Al-Qaeda Alliance on one of their hacked sites. Declaring that they stood by Al-Qaeda, the defacement said they would be attacking major US and British websites and giving confidential data to Al-Qaeda authorities. […]

9/11+10: Remembering and Forgetting

James Der Derian

Ten years on, remembering 9/11 has become an event in and of itself.1 There is much to honor through memory—the loss of innocent lives, the sacrifice of the first responders, the coming together of communities, from the local to the global, against the terrorist attack on the United States. But there are also moments we […]

Rethinking Afghanistan after a Decade

Richard Falk

Reading what I wrote about Afghanistan a decade ago reminded me of how much my understanding of the role of war and hard power in upholding security for the nation and the world has changed. Actually, it seems clear to me that my views on Afghanistan back in 2001 were an exception to my general skepticism about Western interventions in the non-Western world, a view formed during ten years of opposition to the American role in the Vietnam War. […]

Prediction Is Hazardous—Reflections on 9/11, Global Terror, and Global Democracy

Jack A. Goldstone

Ten years ago, just days after the World Trade Center attack, Charles Tilly courageously put forth for the SSRC thirteen predictions about the attackers, their operations, and the consequences of their actions. Let me address his two last predictions: […]

Secularism Makes a Stand

Wang Gungwu

Ten years ago, the shock of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC, led me to reflect on the impact of secularism on modern developments in East Asia, especially in Japan, whose postwar economic transformation had become the model for the region. I wondered whether the Enlightenment project that inspired the secularism had been misunderstood and led to government policies that damaged the faiths and religions that most people still believed in. […]

9/11: The Lightning Strikes of History

Elemér Hankiss

The famous French historian Fernand Braudel distinguished “macrohistory” from “microhistory.” The former is the history of significant political, economic, and social events, while the latter is the history of the proliferation of, and the slow changes in, people’s everyday lives. […]

The End of the American Century: 9/11 Ten Years On

David Held

9/11 was a crime against the United States and a crime against humanity. Treating the criminals who perpetrated it as soldiers at war with the United States and the West only elevated their status and standing and began the “War on Terror.” The war was as ill formulated as it was executed. […]

Echoes of 9/11: Anti-politics and Politics from Bush to Obama

Dick Howard

On November 12, 2001, I received a request from the German journal Kommune to send for their next issue, which was already in press, some reflections on the events of 9/11 and their implications for the future. The invitation was welcome; after all, what can an intellectual do in the face of such total destruction but try to construct some sense by using his most familiar tool, the word? […]

Unfulfilled Expectations of Democracy: Political Developments in Central Asia after 9/11

Alisher Ilkhamov

Before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia didn’t rank among the regional priorities of US foreign policy. Neither did ordinary Americans have much interest in this region. In 2000, taking part in a scholarly conference held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I dared to complain that, to my observation, the average US citizen often doesn’t have any idea about the very existence of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian “stans” or where they are located. […]

9/11, Global Emergency, and the Crisis of Multilateralism

Kanishka Jayasuriya

The response I made some weeks after the attack on the twin towers by and large has been reinforced over the years. The core of my argument was the idea that the practices and language of security that were so pivotal to the response to the events of 9/11 risked marginalizing the broader context of power and interest that shapes these transnational issues. […]

A Decade of the “War on Terror” and the “Responsibility to Protect”: The Global Debate about Military Intervention

Mary Kaldor

In 2001, before September 11, it seemed as though the world was moving inexorably toward a new humanitarian norm of military intervention in cases of massive human suffering, and in particular, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and large-scale human rights violations. Several reports were published in 2000 and 2001 that strengthened the case for humanitarian intervention. […]

“Traditionalist” Islamic Activism: Deoband and Deobandis, Ten Years Later

Barbara D. Metcalf

At the time of the 9/11 attacks, commentators trying to analyze Afghan support for Al-Qaeda put a great deal of emphasis on the Taliban’s sectarian orientation as “Deobandi.” Deobandis across South Asia were known for disapproval of what they took to be Sufi or Shia intercessory practices that might compromise monotheism; they also discouraged celebration of ostentatious life-cycle customs. […]

Change in Another Decade of Civic War

Peter Alexander Meyers

May Day. It is the feast of pagans and socialists and the namesake of distress. We are ten years into the age of 9/11. George W. Bush is gone and Barack Obama is again casting his voice into the air. No lilting refrain. No poetry. The president is most intent on gravity, although the teleprompter is oddly placed so he cannot look us in the eye. Here is a familiar story retold. Once upon a time, there was a bad man, an enemy to even his own people, like Benedict Arnold or Rasputin or John Wayne Gacy. […]

“Rescue” Ten Years Out: An Anecdotal Report on Afghan Women’s Challenges

Margaret Mills

After nearly a decade of foreign military intervention and with a visibly deteriorating security situation that has affected most of the country over the last three to five years, the primary concern of Afghan women and their families remains physical security, and second to that, economic and food security. […]

What We Have Learned from 9/11

Haideh Moghissi

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. The tragedy surely changed the global political landscape forever. The shockwaves it sent throughout the world, most notably through the United States, raised hopes that the tragedy would encourage probing of the causes of the event and help change Western governments’ foreign and military policies and adventures in the interest of reducing global tensions.

That has hardly happened. […]

Ten Years after 9/11: Controversy over the Meaning of Jihad Remains, As It Always Will

Farish A. Noor

A decade ago, I wrote about the evolution of the concept of jihad and how a plastic signifier grew harder over time and assumed a status that became almost canonical. Ten years on, it seems that the contestation over the meaning of that signifier remains with us, and my suspicion is that it always will. […]

The Paradoxes of the Re-Islamization of Muslim Societies

Olivier Roy

The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West, fueled by the fate of the Palestinians and by Western encroachments in the Middle East; and if this wrath, which has pervaded the contemporary history of the Middle East, has been cast in Islamic terms, it is because Islam is allegedly the main, if not the only, reference that has shaped Muslim minds and societies since the Prophet. […]

Retribution and Its Consequences

Luis Rubio

One of my teachers, Roy Macridis, was fond of saying that public policy, in particular that which is relative to foreign policy, should be evaluated not for its objectives but for its consequences. The theme that especially grieved him was the Vietnam War, concerning which his pithy affirmation was that the United States had achieved exactly the opposite of what it had set out to accomplish.

Ten years ago, my concern was that the American response to the brutal attacks of 9/11 would bring about precisely the opposite of what was intended. […]

Ten Years Later: The Pursuit of National Security Is Now the Source of Urban Insecurity

Saskia Sassen

Writing about 9/11 in 2001, right after it had happened, what I saw as an activating field, though not the origin, was the rapacious global political economy Western governments and firms have produced over decades and centuries. By “activating field,” I do not mean a cause, but a type of agency that enables, which might be one of several. This activating field has been one factor in many and diverse historic events—some emancipatory, such as the independence movements of the 1960s in Africa, and some brutal and murderous, such as the 9/11 attacks.

Being asked to write about what I see today, ten years later, I am struck by the emergence of yet another activating field—the urbanizing of wars and the associated global projection of even minor attacks. […]

America’s Global Implosion: From the Washington Consensus to the Arab Spring

Neil Smith

The most unpredictable result of the aftermath of 9/11 was surely the massive implosion of US global power.

A lot was of course predictable in the aftermath. It was clear that the US state would appoint itself the “global executioner,” as we suggested then, although less clear how this would work through. […]

Mourning the Arrested Memory of 9/11

Marita Sturken

So politicized, so fraught, and so painfully disappointing, the process of memorialization of the events of 9/11, symbolically focused on Ground Zero in New York City, was in many ways entirely predictable from the first months after September 11. […]

Planes, Trains, and Chemical Plants: China in 2001 and 2011

Jeffrey Wasserstrom

What kind of year was 2001?

American government figures and candidates for office can only answer this in one way—if, that is, they want to be seen as mainstream representatives of either of the main political parties. They have to begin by referring to the tragedies and traumas of 9/11 and move on to the challenges the country faced a decade ago in the aftermath of that horrific day. Leading members of a very different political organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), might be strongly tempted to respond to the query in a radically contrasting way, at least when talking among themselves. […]

Diaspora in History: Reflections on 9/11 in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring and UK Riots, 2011

Pnina Werbner

In my earlier essay posted on the SSRC website, I spoke of the “tragic predicament of a diaspora caught between deeply felt loyalties, at an historical moment not of its own making. Most British Muslims in the diaspora,” I commented, “witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers on television, sitting in their living rooms, with the same helpless sense of horror as Western spectators. […]

The Attack on Humanity, Ten Years Later: Conflict and Management

I. William Zartman

A decade has passed since September 11, 2001. On our side, there is still bickering over construction of the memorial site in Manhattan, but the war over the mosque, or cultural center, nearby has gone into remission. Memorial services focus on the victims rather than on the clash of civilizations that the attacks represented. This year, we can even celebrate with fanfare, since Osama Bin Laden is dead, dumped ceremoniously into the Indian Ocean.

But, on the other side, the conflict is not over. […]


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