9/11: A survivor's story
Terror struck America and changed us forever. None of us will ever forget where we were, who we were with, and what we were doing that fateful day when tragedy struck.
I worked on the 81st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center and my wife Mary worked on the 71st floor of the South Tower.
It was an incredible experience working in this majestic building, especially for an immigrant who had just arrived from India in February of 2011. Mary and I felt blessed to work in the same complex.
I left my home in Teaneck, New Jersey, early that morning. The commute was normal and as the NJ Transit bus rolled out of the Lincoln Tunnel into Midtown, I noticed again the awesome sight of the World Trade Center from a distance. It was a beautiful, clear day on the East Coast.
I made my way to my office and as I sat in my chair, I reflected on God’s goodness on our lives. He had blessed us with good jobs and now we were expecting our first child. Everything seemed to be going well.
Yet, I felt a deep sense of emptiness. I knew there was a call of God upon my life, but I was not doing anything about it. I decided to write an email to a friend from church telling him how I felt and how I was looking for greater purpose. I sent that email at 8:05 a.m. from my office. Little did I know how the next few moments would change us forever.
At about 8:45 a.m., I faxed some work-related documents. As I returned to my desk, I heard this incredible explosion. Our building rattled and swayed from side to side. People screamed throughout our floor.
American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles had just crashed into our building, taking out most of floors 92 through 98. Debris from the plane flew into our office, jet fuel poured down the elevator shaft, and everything started going up in flames. We tried to stay calm, but fear descended on all us of as we wondered if we could get out of the building.
Huge craters gaped below and above us. It was picture of twisted steel with smoke and fire spreading fast. My heart sank. I worried about my pregnant wife as we fought our way through the fire to the stairwell.
As we descended, I tried to reach my wife with my cellphone, but no calls would go through. We heard another massive explosion as the second jet rammed into the South Tower, though we didn’t know what was occurring. Desperate, I stopped on the 53rd floor and unsuccessfully tried to call from a land line. I was extremely worried about my wife but there was no way to reach her.
As I continued going down, rescue workers passed us as they rushed up to the disaster.
When we saw them, there was hope that we might get out of this burning building.
We had no idea then that these brave men were walking up to their death.
We made our way to the ground level to witness a picture of death and destruction – debris from the plane, burning materials, shattered glass, and bodies all over the courtyard. It was a war zone. I saw people being led through the different exits of the World Trade Center.
I headed toward the South Tower, hoping to find my wife. As I reached the second tower, the ground shook terribly and all 110 stories of her building collapsed around us. Huge boulders of steel and mortar crashed down. The people around me huddled at one end of the building and I started praying for the blood of Jesus and asking God to give His strength.
As I stared death in its face, I felt a peace about this place called heaven. I felt challenged to tell people around me that if they did not know Christ that they should call upon His name. At that point, everyone around me started crying, “Jesus!”
It was indescribable as we started calling on His name. There is so much power in the name of Jesus. When you are near death, you are very ready to accept Jesus into your life.
By then, the whole building had collapsed and we were buried in the debris.
Somehow, not a single thing fell on me. I found myself in three feet of white soot and glass. I got to my feet and heard nothing but silence.
I could see dead bodies all around me. God directed me to the only other survivor in our group – a man on the ground who had a flashlight. I told him that only Jesus could save us and that we had to live.
When he stood up, I saw his jacket was emblazoned with an FBI insignia. We held hands and started walking through the rubble.
It was like a blizzard of concrete and ash. I saw a light flashing on top of an ambulance, so I told the FBI agent that we had to head toward that flashing light, since the vehicle was on the street. We somehow made it to the ambulance, which had been badly damaged by debris. From that point, it was relatively easy for us to make our way out.
He went his way to try to help others and I fled the scene of destruction. I was convinced that my wife, who worked in the collapsed tower, was probably dead. I joined the crowd running from all over downtown to safer places far away from the skyscrapers. We ran and walked for an hour and throughout the whole time my cellphone failed to work.
At noon, my cellphone suddenly rang. It was my wife, telling me that she was alive. When she heard my voice, she realized that I had survived, too. She had not made it to work, since her train had reached the World Trade Center subway stop five minutes after the first crash and she never went into the buildings.
She had been hysterically wandering the streets, thinking I was dead. Nevertheless, both of us were miraculously alive. We reunited on 39th Street in Manhattan near the ferry and looked back. Both of our buildings had been reduced to a pile of smoking rubble and ashes.
I thank God for the resilience of life that we saw in New York City. It has been inspirational to see the city come back to life and breathe again. But America will never be the same. So much has happened in our world over the last 10 years.
I salute the fallen and those that have been left standing. I thank God for our brave police men and women, firefighters, and military personnel who defend our freedom.
Many give their lives today for others to live tomorrow. May we never forget their sacrifice. They do not die in vain.
God, in His mercy, spared our lives, even though thousands died on that fateful day. We will all have to go one day, for it is appointed for all men once to die.
We have been left here to challenge the world with the question, “Do you know where you are going?”
In our journey on this earth, we will have trials and sorrows, times of brokenness and pain.
But God is in the business of turning our tragedies into triumphs of His glory and grace. Have you given your life story into His hands? Since that day God has launched me and my wife on a mission to prepare people for eternity. Are you ready?
For more information about Sujo and his ministry over the last 10 years, visit www.sujojohn.com.