Britons escape doomed towers

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Hundreds of people working for a British company in the World Trade Centre narrowly escaped disaster although the suicide planes destroyed their offices. Some 675 workers in the money-broker ICAP were in the complex when the towers were hit. The company, formerly Garban-International, was operating across three floors of both towers.

But a spokesman said: "As far as we have been able to determine, it appears that nearly all our staff have miraculously survived. We continue to hope for the small number unaccounted for. "Our thoughts now are for all those who have lost their lives, and their families."

The company was renting space on the 55th floor of the north tower, the first to be hit, and the 25th and 26th floors of the south tower, the first to collapse. ICAP, founded by the multimillionaire Michael Spencer, is the world's biggest money-broker and specialises in financial derivatives.

The company, thought to be the largest British tenant in the towers, is said to generate more than a third of its income from its New York operation, and senior executives are confident they can recover from the devastation and be fully back in business in six months.

Another Briton, Simon Perkins, was also caught up in the horror. The 32-year-old software specialist is a vice-president of the merchant bank Salomonsmith Barney. He led 60 of his staff to safety moments before the towers collapsed. In Britain, his father Ray said: "He was the senior person in his office and it was his decision to get out straight away. I can just see him doing it. He is the typical, cool-headed Englishman."

Staff at other businesses and financial institutions across London still await news of the fate of their colleagues. Grim-faced traders were hoping to hear from their counterparts in New York who were arriving at work when tragedy struck.

For many City workers conference calls to offices in the World Trade Centre were a part of daily life. A spokeswoman for Cantor Fitzgerald and eSpeed in London said the company had offices high in one of the World Trade Centre buildings, employing 1,000 people.

"We have been closely in touch with New York through the night but the situation there has been pretty chaotic," she said. "It is a very difficult time, very difficult for everyone involved. It has touched everybody."