The twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001
By Cresonia Hsieh
DELRAY BEACH, Florida – ThomasPanevino was in his seventh grade Spanish class in Manhattan the morning ofSept. 11, 2001, when he heard the booming sound of an approaching airplane.
Despite their teacher’s instructionto remain seated, Panevino and his peers crowded by the window in time to watcha large airplane speed up before their eyes and pierce through one of thebuildings of the World Trade Center.
“It sounded like a bomb had been setoff,” said Panevino.
Immediately after, the voice of theirprincipal interrupted the class in a feeble attempt to restore peace at Intermediate School 89 on Warren Street.
The World Trade Center, she announced, had simply suffered an “electricalaccident.”
Panevino’s father was the first atthe school to pick up his child. They both tried to call his mother, whousually got coffee at the World Trade Center, but they didn’t receive anyservice.
The father and son decided to walk halfa block away to their home and see if she was there.
All the while, burning papercluttered the road and fell down on them like confetti at a party.
While they were making their way, a frenziedwoman ran up to them, wildly shouting, “They’re jumping! They’re jumping!”
At first, Panevino thought the womanwas merely crazy, but when he looked up, he saw the faces of people gasping forair by the window or sitting on top of ledges.
A few seconds later, his eyes met thebody of man jumping off of the 80th floor.
Not knowing exactly what to do, thefather and son sat and watched the building continue to burn, witnessing thedeaths of many people escaping a fiery end by instead jumping to their fate.
“It was like every minute people werejumping, one after another,” Panevino recalled.
After moments passed, the two decided they could no longer watch and continuedto make their way home past the World Trade Center to continue in their searchfor his mother.
After some time, they found that she wasn’thome. Panevino’s father left a note for her saying he had their son and Eddie,the family’s one-year-old chocolate brown poodle, tucked in a carrier.
When they emerged from their house,it was evident that now both towers had been hit.
The second building was ablaze andthe police had begun to take action, pushing people away from the scene, urgingthem to sit by the park.
It was there that Panevino rememberedthe scorching heat from the flames.
“I could only imagine what it must belike for the people inside,” he said.
New York City Police Authority photo
Dust and ash began to envelope Manhattan on
Sept. 11, 2001 as the World Trade Center collapsed.
Panevino asked his father, “When doyou think the fire’s going to burn out?” Just as the words escaped his lips,one of the towers collapsed.
In a matter of seconds, the resultingcloud of black smoke began to engulf everything surrounding it.
Panevino and his dad realized theencroaching cloud would soon overtake them, too, and ran to find shelter behinda nearby wall of a building.
“The sunniest day in New York becamelike night,” Panevino said. “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and Ithought I was going to die – this was it.”
They spent the next 30 to 40 minutes breathingin air that Panevino said felt “like breathing in sand.”
When the boy could no longer standit, the two tried to escape to a nearby bathroom. Their journey, however, washindered by the mountains of ashes, dust, dirt, and ruin that came up to hisknees and cluttered the road.
What was once a five-minute walkbecame 20 in the wreckage.
Upon entering the bathroom, they sawthe soot-covered faces of many other survivors. Without water due to theexploded pipes, they all washed away the debris with toilet water and waited.
Two officers knocked and emerged fromoutside, coughing. They told the crowd that they would all have to evacuate dueto the fear that more planes may be coming to blow up Manhattan, and that therewere boats waiting to take them to Hoboken, New Jersey.
The next memory Panevino has is thedamage he saw when he emerged from the bathroom door.
“Whatever worst thing you couldimagine,” he said, “was there.”
Overturned bikes and cars of allshapes and sizes were scattered along the defiled street. The air still cloudy withsmoke, he could only see the outline of the sun.
When the group reached the river,they were met not with boats, but with mere 10-person rafts.
Panevino, his father and the other 30people climbed aboard a single raft and grabbed onto each other.
Halfway to New Jersey, someonescreamed, “The boat’s sinking!”
Thomas looked back to see that notonly was the raft indeed sinking, but that New York was still on fire and hazywith smoke.
Smoke from the World Trade Center site in lower
Manhattan billows out across the Hudson River into New Jersey
Panevino, still clutching Eddie inhis carrier, jumped off the raft with the others into the Hudson River and swamto the other side.
People on the opposite bank in NewJersey threw down their coats and jackets and hauled the swimmers onto land.
Though they all survived – the nextday, Panevino and his father reunited with his mom, who was also safe – thedays and months following the attacks were arduous.
They stayed at various hotels, movingevery couple of weeks for eight months.
Like many residents of Manhattan, thePanevinos lived in constant fear of possible upcoming attacks.
By the end of 2004, the familydecided to move.
To them, Manhattan had become notonly a city of fear, but a place for tourist attractions.
What to him was once a charming cityhad become a mere fascination to tourists around the world.
The family moved in with Panevino’sgrandparents in sunny Boca Raton, Fla.
Ten years after that awful day andthe difficult months that followed, Panevino is a senior at the University ofFlorida.
After graduation in the spring, he plansto go to graduate school and then work in international communications,connecting people from around the world.
Surviving the terrorist attacks onNew York changed his life.
“I feel so lucky and blessed,” he said.“I realized how short life can be. 9/11 put a lot of things in perspective forme.”
As for marking today’s anniversary, Panevino said he’s goingchill at home and do something he couldn’t on Sept. 11, 2001 – call his mom.
To read a first person account by Youth Journalism International Reporter Cresonia Hsieh about what writing this story meant to her, please follow this link.
Filed under: 9-11, 9/11, Cresonia Hsieh, Delray Beach, Florida, New York, Sept. 11, terrorism, Thomas Panevino, World Trade Center