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Here's an account of September 11, 2001, by Bill Hewitt, the husband of my father's cousin Marian Helms, written in the form of a letter to their daughter Diana:
At 8:48 in the morning that day, we were in our apartment in lower Manhattan, one third of a mile north from what was the World Trade Center complex. You and your mother were in the living room, and I was still in bed. I was awakened by a loud screaming outside that sounded like a plane or missile, then I heard a huge explosion coming from the direction of the World Trade Center. Your mom thought it was a sonic boom. I thought it might be what it turned out to be. I put my head out the window and saw the gash, fire, and smoke in the side of the north tower of the Trade Center. I knew it wasn't an accident. Not long after, while I was holding you, the second plane came screaming in followed by the explosion. In my remembering, you could tell that the engines were being revved up to full throttle as the planes came boring in for the kill.
Your mom and I decided that I should go down to the scene to see if I could help. There were not very many people coming up the street as I was going down. The people were being evacuated to the east, south, and west. When I got to Vesey (the street bordering the complex on the north), I saw emergency vehicles off to my right, to the west, on West St., toward the Hudson River, and fire trucks to my left on Vesey itself. I went under the overpass that connected the main complex with 7 WTC. There was a lot of activity in the truck bays there, with people coming and going. I had worked for more than ten years for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The captain of the regional office's police detail came by heading into the building. He told me that the Pentagon had been hit.
I was considering where to go and what to do when I heard a third screaming that sounded to me like another plane or some kind of missile coming in. I dove to the curb and pressed up against a concrete barrier waiting for some kind of impact - and, it crossed my mind, my death. No shock came. I got up and moved toward the river, to West St., where scores of emergency vehicles and personnel were deployed, and where people from the Trade Center and other offices were escaping to the north. The screaming I'd heard wasn't another jet or a missile. It was the sonic wave from the south tower collapsing, something I had no idea had happened. Suddenly a huge black-gray cloud with the debris and dust from the collapse of the south tower came roaring up the street, people running for their lives before it.