By Michael Lipin – Washington-based lawyer Frank Razzano is one of several people who escaped from New York’s World Trade Center complex after the Twin Towers collapsed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He was staying in the Marriott World Trade Center, a 22-story hotel that was one of 10 buildings destroyed in the attacks in the area that became known as Ground Zero.
Razzano was in New York on Sunday to attend what he called an “emotional” reunion lunch for several dozen Marriott guests, employees and firefighters who made dramatic escapes from the hotel. He said the survivors and family members also got a tour of two memorials for the estimated 50 people who died at the hotel, most of them firefighters.
On the morning that two hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers, Razzano was sleeping in his 19th floor suite, which he had booked to prepare for a trial in New York. He says he awoke at the sound of the first impact, but returned to bed after looking out of a window and seeing some papers fluttering in the air. Minutes later, the second plane hit the South Tower, just opposite his suite.
“I turned the television on, and they were saying that two planes had hit the North Tower and the South Tower. There was a little bit of confusion at that time as to what had happened. This may sound crazy, but I wasn’t really concerned. This was something that was going on 80 stories above me. I figured the fire department would come and put out the fires and that would be the end of it.”
Razzano said his thoughts were focused on a meeting scheduled for later that morning as he took a shower, got dressed and gathered his belongings. But then the collapse of the South Tower adjacent to the hotel changed everything.
“I felt the building beginning to break up, as if it was being bombarded by artillery fire,” he said. “I looked out the window and I could see a mountain of concrete and steel just falling past the window, almost like in slow motion, like a curtain going down at a theater. I ran to the opposite side of the room and pressed myself against the wall and thought that those were the last few minutes that I was going to have on Earth.
“I distinctly remember thinking to myself that my daughter had just gotten engaged, and I would never see her get married. The other thought that went through my head was, I knew I was going to die, but I was just hoping that something would hit me in the head and that I go quickly. And then all of a sudden, everything stopped.”
Razzano said he moved through the room, opened the door, and yelled out, “Is there anyone there?”
“Just five feet away from me, I hear a voice, ‘Come this way’. On the ground, under some debris, I find a fireman,” Razzano said. “I said, ‘Are you OK?’ He says, ‘I’m OK, don’t worry about me. Just go down the stairs.'”
The collapse of the South Tower created a huge gash in the middle of the hotel, but left its southern stairwell intact. Razzano managed to make it down to the stairwell’s third floor, where he, another guest, a hotel worker and two firemen crawled down a narrow beam through an opening in the wall to the second floor.
Moments later the North Tower fell, demolishing almost all of what remained of the Marriott except for a few floors at the southern edge where Razzano and the other survivors were located.
“All I kept thinking to myself was, ‘This can’t be happening to me twice in one day!'” Razzano said.
“I thought I was going to die, because I couldn’t breathe. Every breath you took, you drew in dust and dirt and you couldn’t get any oxygen,” he said. “And I remember convulsively coughing, as did all the other people in the group. After a few minutes of coughing and hacking, the dust started to settle down, and we were able to get some oxygen.”
Having located another hole in the building, the group used a rug to climb down to a huge debris pile on the ground. A policeman noticed Razzano was bleeding from the head and put him on a boat to Ellis Island, where he was taken by ambulance to a New Jersey hospital. After three days of treatment for bleeding in his brain cavity, the bleeding stopped and he was released from the hospital without surgery.
Razzano said he plans to return to New York on September 29, when his daughter and some of her friends will do a charity run in honor of Ruben Correa, one of the firefighters killed at the Marriott.
He said the courage of the firefighters and police who responded to the 9/11 attacks is more important than his personal story and deserves to be remembered.