Woman gets out of building in nick of time

Originally appeared in Silent News, October 2001.

Silent News talked with Angela and Mike Kessler of Brooklyn, N.Y., two days after the September 11th attack in New York City. Angela was on the 24th floor of the building next to the World Trade Center (WTC) at her job as a secretary for the Internal Revenue Service. Both are deaf and have three children, one of whom was at Gallaudet University on the day of the plane crashes.

“I felt absolutely nothing, nothing. I was sitting there getting ready to have my coffee with two cups of ice, like I do every day,” Angela said. She had come into work at 7 a.m. “I didn’t even feel a boom, or hear anything – nothing.”

Angela was suddenly alerted by a running coworker, who screamed at her to get out of the building now. “I didn’t understand what was going on. She said ‘explosion, explosion,’ and ran to the window. I stood there and saw this huge hole in the building next to me. I stood there looking at this burning hole and couldn’t believe that this was happening.” Angela started to run out but realized she had left behind her purse, and more importantly, her Wyndtell pager on her desk. She ran back to her desk, grabbed these two items, and ran back out.

“We were all walking very hurriedly down the stairwells. We weren’t really pushing each other down, but we were a little aggressive – mostly people were just afraid.”

Angela climbed down all 24 floors, and came out to see utter confusion in front of the buildings. “Security officers were everywhere, and nobody really knew what to do. Everyone was standing around, trying to understand what had just happened. Security was screaming at us to back up, back up. I paged my husband and told him what was going on.”

One of Angela’s coworkers realized she had left her purse up on the 24th floor. Angela said, almost in disbelief, “So she and I ran around trying to find a security guard who would let us go back up to get her purse. We finally found one who took us up in the freight elevator. We then ran back down and got out of the building.”

Suddenly, the second plane crashed into the WTC. “We all were running from the smoke. I saw two people falling, and they were holding hands,” Angela said.

Mike had bought his pager only a week before after a long time of saying he didn’t need one, and says it was a godsend he had gotten his pager. “I didn’t think I needed a pager since my wife had one, but after a while, I jokingly said to my wife and sister that maybe I should get one in case ‘something happened – what if my plane crashes or someone bombs my building or whatever?’ I never thought that my words would come true. It’s just such a blessing that I got it last week.”

Mike, at home 17 miles away in Brooklyn, was overwhelmed by the sight of the WTC on television. “I was on AOL, trying to find out what was going on – and everyone kept IMing me, seeing if I was okay or if Angela was okay.”

Meanwhile, Angela was trying to escape from the site of the crashes as the darkened smoke roared towards her. “The smoke was just unbelievable. I just ran and ran and ran. Everyone was just running from it, just running. What else could we do? There was ash everywhere. It was hard to breathe, and everything was so dirty. It was all like a movie, surreal. I couldn’t believe that I was actually the one running from that big ball of smoke, like in the movies.”

Mike got so restless about having to stay home that he decided to go ahead and drive over to the area to try and find his wife. “When I got near the area, it was  impossible to drive anywhere. Cars were bumper to bumper…so I decided to try and take a different way.”

By now, Angela had made her way over to the Manhattan Bridge, about ten miles away. “My legs were so sore. I had sandals on that weren’t really designed for running or walking, and I had to clench my toes to hold onto them. Many shoes were everywhere from people taking them off to run. So much debris everywhere,” she said.

Dazed, she walked around, trying to figure out what to do next and trying to understand what had happened. “I just stuck to my pager. I learned about what had happened through pages, and I was shocked.”

Mike and she arranged to meet at the Brooklyn Public Library. “I told her to get there as fast as she could,” Mike said, “and stay put until I came. Just stay there.”

They finally met at about 2:00 p.m., a little more than five hours after the first crash into the WTC. “I saw her and we ran into each other’s arms saying ‘I love you, I love you,'” Mike said. “She said that she really needed me, and I held on to her.”

They went home, only to discover that the relay service wasn’t working. Angela has a hearing mother in Long Island, and was unable to contact her. “I had to e-mail my brother and tell him to tell my mother to get on the TTY, so I could call back directly rather than through relay.”

Angela and Mike sat there, glued to the television and AOL. Angela received a call from her employer on Thursday morning, saying that they would be relocated to another building, that she would continue getting paid. She also learned that every worker in her department had gotten out alive.

Mike and Angela credit their pagers for saving Angela’s life. “Many people were struggling with their cell phones, because the phone lines weren’t working,” Angela said. “But I had no problem in communicating with my family and friends because of my pager. I am so glad I ran back to grab my pager.”

Mike agreed. “My advice to all deaf people: get a pager. It’s lifesaving.”

“The trauma hasn’t really hit home for me yet,” Angela said, “But I know it will take great, great effect on Mike and me within the next few months.”

For now, Angela and Mike, who can no longer see the WTC buildings from their Brooklyn apartment as they did everyday for years, are focused on regaining their lives.

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