9/11 Lives: 'I remember thinking instantly that we were under attack'

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The Independent US

Paige Pantezzi, 34

She was on the 24th floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck and knew she had to get out fast. She passed scorched bodies on the mezzanine but kept going; it took eight minutes to reach the street. Ms Pantezzi, who is now 34, stopped to look back just as the second aircraft ploughed in. "I remember seeing the fire and thinking instantly that we were under attack," she says.

She had no problem when President Bush moved weeks later to invade Afghanistan. "I felt that we were going after the people who had attacked us," she recalls. But today she has many questions about what has been done in the name of 9/11 - and what has not. For example: "Where is Osama bin Laden?"

She worries that aggression by America and its allies is backfiring. "Attacking people is not solving things," she says. An old friend from high school lives in a flat in London immediately above one of the Tube stations attacked last summer. "There are more threats surfacing."

Her main concern is that no one, here or in the Muslim community, is doing enough to calm the enmity that drove the attackers.

Mickey Kross, 59

When the North Tower came down, Mickey Kross, who retired from the New York Fire Department a few weeks ago, was helping an injured woman down the stairwell and had reached the third floor. "I heard this tremendous, tremendous noise and then came this very fierce wind, like a hurricane, that lifted me off the ground," he recalls. "Then there was nothing but silence. I thought I might be dead." He was hurt but alive and a shaft of light guided him to safety. Mr Kross, 59, still carries a memento of his survival - a diving watch that he was wearing that day which suffered no ill effects.

Nancy Cimei

Nancy Cimei is almost surprised how together she can be nowadays when talking about her son, Michael D'Aria, who died on 9/11. The 25-year-old had joined the fire department just nine weeks before the terror attacks. He was buried when the towers collapsed and his body was found on New Year's Day 2002.

Her composure is not infallible, however. It's usually when she is alone at her home in Staten Island, across the harbour from Ground Zero, that the grief ambushes her. "I'm OK, I really am. But then I am watching TV and something about 9/11 comes on the news and Michael's picture is up there on the wall. That's when I fall apart," she admits.

The Iraq war, meanwhile, hangs heavily over Mrs Cimei, 55."I am not happy with the situation. Immediately after 9/11 I felt that the President was doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but now I feel that enough is enough. Too many people are dying."

She is also discouraged because Osama bin Laden still has not been caught.

Today, she will try not to dwell on the memories of that day. "Every time the phone rang I thought it was Michael. I hoped he was just too busy and that he would call when he was done. But we never heard from him again."

Rosemary Cain

Rosemary Cain had to wait until New Year's Eve 2001 before the remains of her son, George, a fireman dispatched to evacuate the burning towers on 9/11, were discovered in what was left of the Marriott Hotel adjacent to the Twin Towers and returned to her for burial. The man who dug George's body out of the rubble was the just-retired fireman, Mickey Kross.

We meet at the dedication of the new 9/11 Tribute Centre and Mrs Cain is clasping a photograph of her son, who was 35. She holds it in front of her for everyone to see. If a tourist wants to snap pictures of her holding the photograph, she gracefully agrees.

"This is a very emotional day," she admits, as the first visitors file in to tour the museum, which includes displays of battered helmets and shredded uniforms of other firemen who lost their lives. "Their story has to be told."

Mrs Cain finds the war in Iraq and the continuing terror threats upsetting. "Our young children are growing up with violence, fighting and bombings all around them" On the need for the war, however, she is in no doubt. "We have to do everything necessary to take these people to task," she says. "These are evil people who don't understand our civilised way of life."