Beth Miller still remembers an announcement over the PA system in the World Trade Center telling thousands of fleeing workers that it was safe to return to their respective jobs.She didn’t listen.When the building swayed fiercely less than 15 minutes after the announcement, the Tuckahoe, N.Y. resident knew her decision to leave her desk in the offices of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter on the 61st floor of 2 World Trade had been the right one.”Somehow I realized they didn’t have all the information,” she said, thinking back to her thoughts before a jetliner slammed into 2 World Trade, which came to be known as the South Tower in the weeks following the terrorist attacks.
Miller was among the thousands of people still occupying the World Trade Center’s twin towers after two planes, hijacked from nearby airports, were flown into them, exploding on impact.In the year following what has been called the worst attack on American soil, Miller has attempted to go on with her life.
She left her job as the marketing communications director at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, now known as Morgan Stanley, and underwent therapy.
But the events of the day still play in Miller’s mind like it was more recent than a year ago. She cannot shake the memories.
The day America was attacked
“It was a beautiful day,” said Miller, who worked in the training department of Morgan Stanley.
She said she arrived at work around 8:25 that morning and started her daily routine.
Less than 20 minutes into her day, she heard a very loud crashing sound. She brushed it off , saying it sounded similar to that of an elevator accident from a few months back.
She didn’t worry about the sounds until somebody informed the workers to stay away from nearby windows.
“When they said that, I turned around and went to a window,” she said. “There were huge pieces of debris falling.”
That was when the 300 Morgan Stanley workers and others from adjacent businesses began evacuating their floor.
“We went downstairs in two lines of people,” she said. “It was very calm and orderly.”
The descent, which took more than 40 minutes to complete, was halted on the 44th floor. Video of what was unfolding outside – showing the flames and smoke made by the jetliner that crashed into 1 World Trade – was starting to surface on news channels such as CNN and MSNBC. Many people got off the stairwell to see the damage that had been done. Miller said many people watched in horror.
“It was the first time many of us were seeing what was going on outside,” she said.
“It took a while to set in what was going on,” she said. “I thought it was a small engine plane and that someone had a stroke or heart attack. And it was so severe that they accidentally hit the building.”
Minutes later as she and other people continued past the 30th floor, looking for the main exit, the building did something she described as swaying back and forth.
“Some people fell down and some screamed. It was scary,” she said. “There was a clear point where I thought we were dead.”
She said she didn’t panic. People around her were telling them to stay calm and that they were close to the ground. That was when people began to count down to the first floor.
When the group passed the concourse level, the scene became more real.
Scraps of the building and the jetliners were strewn about in the plaza area – once used as a relaxing spot for the many workers and people who visited the building.
“It was the eeriest moment,” she said. “Stores were closed, there was a gray film over everything and the security people had closed off a lot of the area.”
Security personnel directed the groups down the escalator for them to make their way out of the building. She and a few others exited the building through the subway exit.
“That was when we saw the building on fire,” she said.
She and a friend hopped in a train to Grand Central Station trying to get home from work. It was in the cab that she found out the loud noise she heard while walking down the stairs in the building was that of another lane striking 2 World Trade.
“I just thought it was a cross explosion,” she said.
Seconds later, the cabby gasped.
He told his passengers that the South Tower was collapsing.
“I literally watched the building come down,” she said. “At that point I knew it was way beyond an accident.”
When she got home, she tried to tune out the rest of the world.
A friend told her what had happened with the Pentagon and the other plane that went down in Pennsylvania.
“That was the point where my mind went into shock,” she said. “I was on overload.”
Making a life post-9/11
When the buildings collapsed, her department was temporarily moved into a computer lab in the company’s main offices in Times Square. From there, the company leased a building for the training department, where she worked until December, when she was told her job would be transferred to Dallas.
“I liked my job and the people I worked with,” she said. “We were there for each other (after everything happened). But I didn’t want to leave New York.”
She opted to take a severance package and start looking for a new job. Soon after she landed a job as the senior internship coordinator in the Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York.
Before she left Morgan Stanley, she was given the option of undergoing therapy for any trauma caused by the attacks. After an hour-long group session, she opted not to go through with any further meetings with counselors and psychiatrists. She believes she was spared from some of the pain endured by others that day because she didn’t “view any human tragedy head-on.”
But she still has problems caused by the events of Sept. 11.
“I can’t handle loud noises,” she said. “I couldn’t handle them before, but I really can’t stand them now.”
She said she finds herself looking for the nearest exit every time she’s out in public. She also hates going down stairs that remind her of the stairs in the Twin Towers. Sirens still excite her. “There were so many that day,” she said.
She also thinks a lot about her decision to not listen to the PA announcement and go back to the office.
“I know of cases where people went back up and they didn’t make it,” she said. “I don’t blame (the building announcers). I don’t fault them. But you had to make that decision yourself.”