‘It went from color to black-and-white.’
Verizon Delaware president William Allan recounts his 9/11 experience.
“It was an amazing day. I’ll never forget it,” William R. Allan says of Sept. 11, 2001. He recalls seeing steel girders “thrown to the ground like lawn darts. Everyone had stunned looks on their faces as they walked around.”
Now president of Verizon Delaware, Allan then lived in Albany, N.Y. He was scheduled for a meeting with the Public Service Commission in Midtown Manhattan at 9 a.m. on the day of the attacks, so he was in Pennsylvania Station, reading the New York Times, when the first plane hit. His meeting site, on the 10th floor of a building on 34th Street, was a couple of miles away, but near enough to give a view of the World Trade Center disaster. Even from that distance, the collapse “felt like an earthquake,” Allan says.
When that meeting was summarily adjourned, Allan rushed to the Verizon headquarters. At 140 West St., across Vesey Street from the north tower, it had a 400-foot hole in its east-facing wall caused by hurling debris. “It was like the reverse of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Allan says. “It went from color to black-and-white. Everything was shades of gray. The place was full of pulverized building material. It was what I imagine it looked like when Mount St. Helens blew.”
The building was also without power and functioning generators, so, “It was dead in the water,” Allan says. But with so much of the city—including Wall Street—and the coast depending on Verizon for communications, getting the network back up was an urgent need.
“We were working around the clock to restore service for the New York Stock Exchange and others by Monday morning,” Allan says. “It became an objective of national pride.”
By the end of the day, Allan “amazingly” hailed a cab on West Broadway to take him to the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street. The hotel was “a mob scene. No one could get out of town that first night.” By Thursday, “I was sitting in the dining room by myself.”
All the while, firefighters searched for bodies, including those of their fallen brothers and sisters. Policemen stood on every corner. Fighter jets patrolled the immediate air space. “It felt like a war zone,” Allan says.
He stayed in the city until Friday, Sept. 14. He left an hour before President Bush made his famous speech at West and Vesey, near the Verizon Building.
Verizon patched things up, but it was Thanksgiving by the time the network was fully restored. Allan returned to the city several weeks later. The search for bodies had ended. Demolition had begun.