The Tower Is Down

Harold Dow, 48 Hours correspondent, GD, 020226 CBS

An excerpt from "What We Saw" by CBS News and published by Simon & Schuster. Harold Dow is a CBS News Correspondent.



As I made my way to the World Trade Center on that Tuesday morning after the jetliners had crashed into both towers, I could hear sirens coming from all over the city -- police cars, ambulances, fire engines. But it was what I saw that disturbed me the most: bodies falling from the sky. At first I didn't know what they were. But as they came closer into view, I could see that they were men and women, their shirts and hair blowing in the wind. A woman standing near me cried out, "Oh, no." Others just stared in disbelief. As I stood there stunned and numb, I thought about the twenty-nine years I've been working for CBS News and how I'm supposed to be ready for anything. As another body fell, I knew instantly, "No way am I ready for this."

About two blocks from the towers, at the corner of Barclay and Washington streets, police officers were trying to evacuate people from the area. They didn't care if you had a press pass. But then I spotted an undercover police officer I had done a story on a few years back. I asked if he could get me closer. He was a little apprehensive and kept mumbling, "This thing could go, this thing could go." In the back of my mind I thought, "There's no way this building is coming down." He was reluctant but he did help me get closer.

As we moved in I noticed that the emergency vehicles had surrounded the buildings and officials had set up command posts. Firemen, police officers, and other emergency workers were rushing into the towers.

I was about a block away. That's when I heard what sounded like a freight train: the noise twisted steel makes when it's under a lot of stress. Then there was the rumbling sound of the floors collapsing on top of each other, each floor with its own gush of air. I looked up and saw Tower Number Two crumbling down. Debris was falling everywhere. My eyes locked onto my friend the undercover cop. He was scared and so was I. He ran in one direction and I ran in another. I looked back. A huge ball of black smoke and concrete dust at the base of Tower Two was heading in my direction.

Hundreds of people started running. Some fell, either tripped or were hit with falling debris. You couldn't stop running because if you did you would be trampled. I turned a few corners and ran down a street that was littered with shoes. People had literally run out of their shoes, fleeing for their lives.

The smoke was choking; it was hard to see. That's when I spotted the Chambers Street subway stop. I knew it would be my only way out of this chaos, so I took it. About three people followed me. I ran down the stairs, looked over to the right, and noticed a shoe repair shop. All four of us ran inside and shut the door behind us. Within seconds that dense cloud of smoke made its way down into the subway, but we were safe.

The owner of the shoe repair shop, who was wearing a turban and had olive-colored skin and a beard, allowed me to use his phone and within seconds I was live on the air with Dan Rather. He wanted to know if I could confirm that one of the towers had come down. It was hard to believe what I had just witnessed and it pained me to say it: Yes, Dan, I can confirm that one of the towers is down.

NEXT >>> Byron Pitts: A Fireman's Tears
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