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Letter by Denise (Thomas) Casazone, a Hemet native who survived the attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001 Bom and raised in Hemet, moving to Manhattan was both intimidating and exciting. After | graduated Hemet High School in 1995, I moved to San Diego, fell in love, and we decided that New York City was the place for us. My fiance was accepted to Columbia University for his (master of fine arts degree), and my passion for theater ‘encouraged the move. Unlike most struggling actresses, I decided I didn't want to wait tables. Instead, | used my skills in finance and began working at the World Trade Center. I had been working there for almost two years until Tuesday, Sept. 1, the "day of infamy" as many writers have called coined it. | would love to share my experience with those who raised me. I work for a company that occupied the ninth, 10th and 81st floors of the World Trade Center Tower One -- the first tower hit. Although I usually start work at 8 a.m., [ was running late, which is not normal for me. I didn't arrive until 8:40 a.m. Just as I reached the elevator to venture up to my floor, the building began to shake and roll, Well, being from California, I thought we were having an earthquake. | pushed the elevator button to continue up to work. When I realized that this was an extraordinarily long earthquake, | turned back toward the concourse and saw a security man sweating and nervous. He mumbled something about 1993 and a bomb. That was the first time | panicked. The closest exit to me was an escalator that would take me to the main plaza. As soon as I reached the top, I screamed. The wall to the plaza is glass, and I watched flaming debris of all sorts crashing to the ground -- this was the side the first plane plunged into, A woman grabbed my arm, as I was frozen, and pulled me down the escalator. Then, in the main concourse, I began to follow a crowd out. In the confusion, I stumbled down the stairs to the subway. Luckily, or so I thought, a train was there and I pushed my way onto the already crowded, confused and unaware rush-hour-filled train. Someone began shouting, "If there's a bomb up there, there could be a bomb down here." That was the second time | panicked. Although still disoriented from the gruesome sights I had seen just two minutes earlier, I knew I had to get out of that area. Finally, the subway moved downtown, and we were able to flee the subway one stop later at Rector Street. When | finally came up from underground, I was shocked. As I walked toward the Trade Center, | carefully stepped over rubbish. I looked up and | remember thinking it was like a ticker-tape parade, Papers were floating down like snow. J approached, gawking instead of running, Firefighters and ambulances were arriving and the rescue began, By then, I had heard other dazed onlookers state a horrible plane accident had occurred. Many others stated they would wait here until the fire was out so we could get back to work. Then we heard it: a thunderous roar. I watched as a jet plane turned into tower number two. A man from the Port Authority grabbed a few of us, and we ducked behind a car as a great ball of flame engulfed the building. People were screaming, praying and crying. We knew this was not an accident. Stil I did not run, Shock and fear, not curiosity, grounded me there. We watched both towers billowing smoke and flames. We watched people in the towers as they had to make a horrible choice of how they were going to die. Many jumped. | frantically looked around for anyone | knew from my office. | heard another loud explosion-like sound at the base of the towers and for the first time realized I should eave. 1 couldn't look at the camage around me any longer. I began to walk up toward Chinatown and had my first logical thought: Call home. I made a collect call at the first pay phone I found. | called my fiance and told him to call my parents, as | knew they were up and watching the news. I quickly hung up the phone for the 10 other people in line, About a minute later, I heard a rumble and groan from the Trade Center, which was only a few blocks away AL first, I couldn't believe my eyes. People were frantic, running, falling, weeping, managed to outrun the silver ball of smoke and rubble. I was slightly covered in ash and my eyes were swollen shut from soot and tears. [ began to walk aimlessly north. | had no idea where | was or how I would get home. The subways were closed, and the cabs were full Hturned down a small street and saw an empty taxi, Although he was off duty, he agreed to take me home. | told him I had only S15 and to drop me when we approached that amount, "just please go north!" He told me not to worry and took me all the way home, the meter off, My company’s San Francisco office called that evening to do a body count, offer sympathy and provide information for immediate therapy and support, | found out later that three of my associates did not make it out of the building. God has blessed me. | am extremely fortunate, We have all been affected by this horrific event in one way or another. New Yorkand Washington, D.C.. may have been the geographic locations. but the victims and survivors are from all over the country and world, even the small town of Hemet. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and | will join you in continuous support of our country and freedom am not afraid to fly home,