Eighth grade students in Mike Stillman’s history class got a lesson on the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks through the eyes of a person who was there.
On Friday, Wendy Mai, sister of Amanda Mai a teacher at the Middle School, spent the day speaking to the history classes sharing her personal 9/11 experience telling them what she witnessed, how she fled and finally made it home.
Mai worked directly across from the street from the World Trade Center for Deutsche Bank at 130 Liberty Street. She had just transferred from the New Jersey office two weeks earlier.
When the first plane hit she thought what she heard was thunder, thought not much of it, and went right back to work. Because she was new at this office, she didn’t know many of the co-workers but she soon joined them looking out the windows to see what was happening as the first tower burned.
“It looked as though a giant file cabinet had fallen out of the sky,” she told the students. When the towers were hit no one really knew what was going on. She had called family members to try to find out what was happening and then learned from her sister it was all over the news. There was uncertainty as to what was happening at this point and there was even messages from the security in her building to stay put. But many decided to flee and she followed, walking down 24 flights to evacuate.
She was only about a block away when the first tower collapsed. To give the students an idea of what she had to run from, she showed them a You Tube video that showed it happen from right around the same exact spot she would’ve been at when she ran.
Mai shared what she went through next as she had to wait for hours in the basement of a nearby building, safe away from the falling debris outside. Cell phones didn’t work and there was no way to call home. Once she finally went outside she found the entire area, which normally would be crowded with people, vacant, and covered in a thick dust.
She told the students it was surreal, like something out of a movie, as she described that she saw chairs turned over in restaurants, unfinished meals on tables, all signs that people just got up and fled. Hours and hours later after getting to New Jersey by a ferry, and being bussed over to Newark Penn Station she was reunited with her family.
Mai also showed them how things changed after 9/11. She was unable to go back to work for two weeks. The building she worked in was severely damaged by the collapse of the towers. Years later it was finally torn down, as it could not be saved due to the extensive damage. Some of her former colleagues had been so traumatized by the events they never came back to work in the city. Some had also lost loved ones, she said.
She has since gone back to work in the city, now as an employee of Standard Chartered Bank. Since 9/11 there is a strong presence of security in New York City with train and subway stations regularly armed with guards, the military and bomb-sniffing dogs, all which were never there before, she told them.
Before 9/11 people felt safe and now there is an awareness of danger, she told them.
“I am lucky that I was so close and made it home okay,” Mai said adding that the experience has taught her to never take things for granted.