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Memories Of The '93 World Trade Center Bombing: 'Thank God The Elevator Never Arrived'

02/25/2013 11:21 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2013
  • Buck Wolf Executive Editor, Crime & Weird News, The Huffington Post

When firefighters rushed into the World Trade Center, I didn't care. Nobody around me did. It was lunchtime in Zuccotti Park on Feb. 26, 1993, and I was reading "The Art & Science Of Dumpster Diving."

Firetrucks would pull up to the curb outside the Twin Towers all the time. It was always something -- a smoldering cigarette, a strong wind on an upper floor. Fire alarms were something you'd learn to ignore.

We heard the boom down the street. Still, nobody cared. To live in New York City is to accept the occasional boom. People here don't turn around much -- even today.

At that moment, nobody had any idea that a terrorist with a truck bomb had blown a crater under the WTC that was the size of the Meadowlands Arena -- or that six people were dead.

I was just another zombie-like New Yorker in the Financial District ambling back from lunch.

Even the glitter of emergency lights didn't mean much. The firefighters couldn't have known what was going on. They didn't try to stop me when I entered the lobby.

Nobody knew what they were getting into.

In the Tower Two lobby, a man was down on the ground. I didn't know why. I didn't stop. I had to get back to my desk.

I was a young reporter, working my first job at "The Journal of Commerce," which was then one of the oldest papers in the United States, founded by Samuel Morse of Morse Code fame, back in 1827. And I had the fear that every young journalist has in these moments -- that I had irreparably screwed up, and my professional life was over.

I had a story to file -- a small, insignificant story about the Iroquois natural gas pipeline. I should have filed it before lunch. But I wanted a falafel from Sam's Falafel Stand at Zuccotti Park, and I wanted to check out my new Dumpster diving book.

Now, filing that pipeline story would be impossible. And my miserable wretch of an editor would have all the reason she needed to put my meager career out of its misery.

I actually hit the elevator button to go up. I hit it several times, in anger.

Thank god it never arrived. The worst place to be in a disaster like that is an elevator. The TWC had "198 of the biggest, fastest elevators ever built" and on Sept. 11 at least 200 people died in them.

Suddenly, smoke filled the lobby. Crowds of people came pouring down the steps. A frighteningly elaborate light show, composed entirely of flickering emergency vehicles, awaited me outside.

I would never think about the Iroquois natural gas pipeline ever again -- until today, 20 years later.

Of course, these disasters always come with the promise that "things will get back to normal." And, of course, there's never been a word more nebulous than "normal."

I remember the fanfare with which they reopened the Twin Towers. Along with the ceremony, there was a commemorative blue coffee mug waiting on each person's desk. Above an image of the Twin Towers were the words "Welcome Back!" scrawled in friendly letters.

I never drank from that cup. I figured it would be a collector's item one day.

On Sept. 11, I was working for ABC News. When those planes struck the towers, I was immediately dispatched to go down there.

I was at a point in my life where I covered crime, and a lot of big disasters -- the Oklahoma City bombing case, the crash of Flight 800. I was a guy you sent to the scene to speak to victims, to get their stories.

As I biked down from ABC's West 66th Street offices, there were thousands of evacuees from lower Manhattan walking slowly, silently in the other direction, trying to escape the eye-stinging smoke.

Usually, when a reporter covers a disaster, you look for one or two people who can tell the story. In the case of Sept. 11, everyone had a devastating story to tell. This news was on a scope I had never seen before -- and hope never to again.

I had one good laugh on Sept. 11.

I was biking toward Ground Zero, thinking darkly, "Boy, I bet my World Trade Center 'Welcome Back!' mug is worth a fortune now. Whoopee!"

It's funny what you think about in a tragedy. Tragedies reveal truths, and not all of them are bad.

What is true about the '93 WTC bombing is also true about Sept. 11 and the Oklahoma City attack. Things could have been a lot worse if people panicked . . . if they didn't cooperate . . . if they weren't good to one another.

The truth is this: Most people are good. They're capable of genuine acts of heroism and extraordinary kindness. It was true in each of these disasters.

Only six people died in the '93 bombing. If you knew how scary it was for the tens of thousands who had to walk down the darkened steps of those 110-story buildings, you'd agree it was a miracle.

The cynic in me has a hard time believing nobody was trampled to death. The emergency lighting system failed. The people didn't.

Today, I'm best known as the guy in charge of HuffPost Weird News. I'm well conversant on the art and science of Dumpster diving, as well as UFOs, competitive eating, and a bunch of other offbeat subjects.

I'm also in charge of HuffPost Crime, and that keeps me all too aware of manmade disasters.

In December, I was in Newtown on the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. I was with reporters Michael McLaughlin and John Rudolf at a church just hours after Adam Lanza's killing spree.

It was a frigid night, and it was hard for anyone to accept the enormity of what just happened.

Still, families, friends and neighbors were singing Christmas carols with tears in their eyes. Even for a devout agnostic like myself, the scene was overwhelming.

Everyone needs, as Springsteen might say, a "Reason to Believe," and mine is that people are generally good.

As Anne Frank famously wrote from the attic in which her family hid from the Nazis: "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

I believe that, too.

I have one other role at the Huffington Post. I am a fire warden. I have a silly red hat, and when the bell goes off for a fire drill, I put it on and annoy people with basic fire facts.

Among the most basic: Whenever there's a sign of fire, never, ever, ever attempt to get into an elevator.

Only an idiot does that.

1999 World Trade Center Bombing Remembered