Then he saw a woman walking out of the haze towards him. Her hands and her body were completely burnt. She was walking like Frankenstein with her arms directly in front of her because her arms were so swollen. Her face was unrecognizable, her head was bare of any hair. A hair slide was burnt into her skin. He knew immediately she was in desperate shape.She had been waiting for a bus outside the building and had run inside when a fireball had engulfed her. “The man who was next to me is dead,” she told Ron.
“I told her to sit down and I ran into the bathroom and looked around and found a plastic bag that I filled with water,” Clifford remembers. It never occurred to him to just leave the woman. “That’s not my way, not the way of my religion,” the staunch Catholic remembers. “I doused her with the bag of water, then I screamed repeatedly for help,” he remembers. “I stood up, kept my eyes on her and shouted for EMS support.” Suddenly the woman spoke. “Jesus, Sacred Heart of Mary, help me,” she said. He knelt down next to her, knowing now she was a Catholic, and they said a Hail Mary and then the Lord’s Prayer.
Then a woman arrived with an oxygen canister and they immediately had her breathe into it.
She told him her name was Jennieann and asked him not to call her mother, who she said was too frail and ill to be told about her daughter’s condition. She gave him her boss’s name at Paine Webber brokerage house and told him she was allergic to latex and was an asthmatic. He scribbled all the details down on a notepad he found in her bag.
At this point he could hear the building shaking and groaning. Because of his architect’s training he was listening for the harmonic convergence, the vibrations coming from the building indicating how it was handling the stress and strain. He did not like what he was hearing. Then came the second massive explosion. Overhead, United Flight 175 traveling at 586 miles per hour carrying his sister Ruth and his beloved niece Juliana slammed into the South Tower between the 78th and 84th floor with incredible force. He had no idea they were on board and actually thought they had left for California a day or so before.
“I knew we had to get out of the building,” he says and he got Jennieann to her feet and asked her if she could make it. “She told me yes so we commenced moving. I was screaming at the top of my lungs for people to get out of the way. They were so horrified when they saw her that they parted like the Red Sea. Somebody shouted, ‘It’s a plane.’ Someone else ‘It’s two planes,’ and then it finally struck me what had happened.”
Because all her clothes had been burnt off, a black waiter gave Clifford a large tablecloth to cover the stricken woman. Eventually they made it outside.
“It was pure carnage,” he says. Every couple of moments there was a loud thud, which he realized were people hitting the ground after jumping from the top floors. Cars, trucks and buses were ablaze or burnt out altogether. There were bodies on the street everywhere.
“The noise, that’s what I remember most,” he says now, “the awful noise and panic.” Huge girders crashed down from the buildings onto the Plaza and the bodies kept falling. “There is stuff I saw that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life,” he says.
Suddenly, out of the smoke and gloom. a fireman appeared “Run for your life,” he screamed at them.“Run, run, run.” Then Ron saw the most extraordinary sight of all: dozens of firemen rushing towards the death trap, going into the building he had just left in order to save people. “I’ve never seen such bravery,” he says now.
He crossed over the West Side Highway to the line of ambulances that were drawn up. Tenderly, he helped Jennieann to the first on the line. “You have to make it now, after all we have been through,” he told her. After Jennieann was taken away, Ron turned and saw young men on the upper floors literally skydiving off the building. He saw one couple holding hands as they fell. Everywhere a thick cover of ash and soot was descending on the living and the dead. It was sheer hell.
He made his way to a public phone in a nearby building, miraculously still working, and called his wife Bridget. She had been watching CNN when the story hit. Sick with worry, she had been trying desperately to reach him on his cell phone but all service was out. “I’m okay,” he told her. “I’ve just gone through hell but I’m okay.” His next call was to his sister Ruth, who he thought might pick up her cell phone. There was no answer. He hardly gave it a second thought
As he spoke, bodies were still passing in front of the window of the building he was in. He said to a man near to him, “These buildings are coming down.” The man said, no, that he was an engineer and that the Trade Towers could withstand even airplanes crashing into them. He remembers thinking the guy must know what he is talking about.