9/11 - A Personal Perspective by Stephen Curry

Tuesday began like any other late summer workday. I dropped my daughter off at school and arrived a little late to my office at Bank of America Securities in midtown NYC about 8:30. From our perch on the 48th floor of 9 West 57th, we had a sweeping view of Central Park on one side of the building and a clear view of the twin towers about 4 miles to the south.

As I was settling in that day, my assistant came running in, exclaiming that there had been a plane crash. I turned to the screen to see what was happening. At first, the image captured my attention as my mind grappled with the impossibility of such an accident. I rushed to the south side of the building, where I had a clear view of the towers. Moments later, I watched the second airliner, another 767, slam into the South Tower.

We had people in the South Tower on the 81st and 83rd floors, specifically in our Securities Processing and Safekeeping division. This was the back office responsible for clearing and tracking billions of dollars in trades for our correspondent brokerage group. Just the previous week, I had been down to those offices, updating associates on our investment banking strategy. We began searching for information on our staff in those locations, pausing only to watch the news updates. Communications through the switchboard was impossible. As the announcers were proclaiming the strength of the buildings, I walked to the south window and aligned the towers with the trusses outside. It was evident that the buildings were clearly deforming. We had made cell phone contact with an employee evacuating, and they were progressing down the stairs, unsure of their exact location. All we could do was offer encouragement and anxiously watch the fires, hoping the South Tower would last long enough for people to evacuate. At 9:59am, we watched as the South Tower collapsed.

At 10:28am, the North Tower collapsed, and communications began to fail completely. Mass transit systems were shut down, and bridges were closed to all but essential transport. The staff in our midtown building were distraught, and most left to find a way home. I decided to keep the building open so that people had a place to stay if they couldn't get home. We had our Administrative team book 200 hotel rooms nearby for anyone returning from Lower Manhattan. We made contact with a scattered group of employees who were coming to our offices. We began to take roll to identify who had made it. I ordered food, water, and a case of whiskey, which the returning employees were grateful for. Most of them were covered in dirt and dust, and all had harrowing stories. Then came the challenges of getting our East Coast bankers at our investment conference in San Francisco back home. Unable to return by plane, they struggled to find alternative transportation. We set up a team to relay messages to those families where communication wasn't working, and help with finding scarce transport…which ultimately came to include moving vans, buses and taxis.

I kept our management team working late that night, with a small team of us working until 1:00 am, calling people at home, contacting family members, trying to find anyone who might know the whereabouts of other associates. The stories were incredible, involving boats, commandeered bicycles, and some very long walks. It was reminiscent of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II. Out of about 200 employees, we had accounted for all but a few. Word had spread that we were taking inventory, and we started receiving calls after midnight. The toughest moments were when family members called asking about people who hadn't made it home. The most heart-wrenching stories were about those who went missing, like Bobbie Hughes, who we discovered had returned to the tower to help a woman down the stairs just as the debris began falling. He and one other perished when the South Tower collapsed.

The fires lit up the sky that night, and the smoke drifted up the island. The smell in our apartment, a few miles north of the towers, steadily worsened. I could only imagine what those closer must have been going through.

The dawn of the next day was eerily quiet, except for the occasional scream of an F-16 overhead. The streets were empty except for the military. When I opened my window in our second-floor apartment on 67th street, I looked straight at the .50 Cal mounted on top of a Hummer. Park Avenue was deserted, like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. A member of the 82nd Airborne escorted my daughter across the street to school. I walked to the office, one of the few people on the street, and a few of us at the office who lived in Manhattan began the recovery process. I learned that several of my 5-year-old daughter's classmates had not been picked up from school the previous evening and had stayed in the apartments of school administrators. That was a painful moment when it all became personal.

There were many difficult days and some proud moments following that event. The banks trading floors were the first to reopen in Manhattan, and our teams played a crucial role in bringing Wall Street back to life. The resilience of America, the determination of New Yorkers, and the depth of resolve exhibited by families dealing with the unimaginable were impressive and reassuring. I was deeply grateful that I had not been personally impacted and felt a great deal of respect for those on the front lines of so much human distress – firefighters, policemen, medical workers, and many more who dealt with these challenges so nobly. It was only a taste of what my father experienced in war, and it is as close as I ever hope to be.

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