Just three months after the World Trade Center collapsed on top of him, Pasquale Buzzelli, a brawny 34-year-old structural engineer, returned to his desk at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Buzzelli, a numbers person used to calculating risk, still hadn’t been able to comprehend what happened to him. “When you start to think about the numbers,” he says, “it doesn’t really seem possible that I’m alive.” Still, he told himself, “Shrug it off, move on, get back in the saddle.”
Buzzelli’s office had been on the 64th floor of the North Tower. At about 10 a.m. on September 11, 2001, he’d phoned his wife for the second time that morning. “Don’t worry,” he said. She was seven months pregnant and at their home in Rivervale, New Jersey. She’d been watching on the giant TV in their family room—she’d turned it on after his first phone call. He assured her that he and a dozen other employees were about to head down Stairwell B. He’d investigated. It was free of smoke. Buzzelli took the lead, his briefcase over his shoulder. It was slow going. The stairs were narrow, and clogged with people.
Then, as he reached the 22nd floor, the building shook, stairs started to heave. It sounded to Buzzelli like heavy objects were being dropped right above his head. The sound got louder, closer. He dove into a corner. “I felt the walls next to me crack and buckle on top of me,” he says. Suddenly, he seemed to be in free fall, and the walls seemed to separate and move away from him.