Surviving the terror: One woman’s story, Pt. I

Catherine Petito, a stock exchange worker from Bensonhurst, was one of the lucky ones to survive the World Trade Center terror attacks. She says the catastrophe changed her life forever.

Her story, first published in this column on Oct. 1, 2001, is now reprinted in two installments to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9-11.

“It was 8:45 am, and I was going out of the Path Train station at Liberty Street, four blocks away from my job, walking south of the World Trade Center. I was feeling a bit down that day, anxious about life itself. But, I also thought to myself, ‘What a beautiful morning.’

“I was wearing high heels, which I don’t normally wear and I was about to cross Liberty Street, at Trinity. Right above me are the Twin Towers. I see a friend of mine. I say hello to him. He doesn’t respond. He’s got this strange look on his face and his head is half turned backwards. I see a woman walking towards me with her hands in the air, screaming. I hear the roar of a plane. It was loud, very, very loud. All of a sudden, I hear an explosion and see debris flying everywhere. The guy, the woman, the plane, the roar, the explosion, the debris, all this happens in a split second.”

“I knew immediately something was very, very wrong. That something really, really bad was going on. I start running and never looked back. Do you know what it’s like running and not knowing what you’re running from, or why? It’s a [messed] up feeling.

“I lost my shoe. I fall. I cut my hands, scraped my chin and banged my knee. I’m thinking to myself, ‘It’s the enemy, they’re coming to get us. They’re bombing us!’ It was a freaky feeling. Eerie like. People were coming out from all over the place. People were screaming. Some were crying. Grown men were crying. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. But I knew it was no accident. I thought, ‘This just doesn’t happen in New York City.’ It was pandemonium.

“At Pine Street, I ask someone, ‘What’s happening?’ He says, ‘A plane just hit the World Trade Center!’ I run to the Stock Exchange. In the lobby I see a friend of mine and drag her off to buy a pair of shoes. In my mind I knew that I needed a pair of shoes because I was going to have to run for my life.

“The guy at the shoe store says he doesn’t have a size five. My friend, Mary, screams at him, ‘Get her a pair of [expletive] size five shoes; do you know what’s happening?’

“I used the guy’s phone to call my husband. He’s frantic. Just as I’m telling him what’s happening, I hear an explosion. It was the second plane hitting. I drop the phone and run out of the store. Mary and I run back to the Exchange. The same people I had seen with smiles on their faces coming out for a cigarette were now crying in terror.

“The guard yells, ‘Everyone out!’ and I start running. People are running in all directions. There’s a million people out on the streets. Debris and smoke is coming in from every direction.

“I’m on Broad Street now and my co-workers, whom I’d met up with, we all decide to go down to our company’s offices on Exchange Place to try and find a safe haven.

“My new shoes are too big and I need a pair of thick socks. I go into a place to buy them and I call my sister, whose husband is a fireman. She’s flipping out. I hear a girl in the background say on the TV, ‘They just hit the Pentagon!’ People are flipping out. I think I’m in a movie. Two of my male co-workers say, ‘We gotta get the [expletive] out’. All of a sudden, we hear what sounds like the rumble of another jet plane. Really, really loud. Later, I find out it was the first Twin Tower collapsing. I say to myself, ‘I’m gonna die.’”

To be continued…

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