9/14/01, 9:46 pm - I just got a copy of the World Herald, Omaha's newspaper, on my way home from work. I started reading through the front page, when I found an article called "1 couple, 2 cities: a shared terror." I was just fine with it up until the end, when I just lost it. I would like to share it with you now. This is reprinted from the Sunrise Edition Friday, Sept 24, 2001.
As Suzanne Shehan tried to outsprint the World Trade Center collapsing at her heels, she thought of two things: Maddie adn Grace.* * *
"The whole time all I could think about is, I have to see my kids again," she said.
Shehan and client David Flor arrived home in Omaha at midday Thursday, two days after narrowly escaping the collapse of the Trade Center.
Shehan, 33, paused as she tried to explain what would have once seemed impossible.
"It was just this giant, black tidal wave of the building coming down," she said. "I ran and just ran. I could see it coming over my shoulder. I truly didn't think i would make it."
Shehan works for the Kutak Rock law firm in Omaha. Flor is director of trading for Ameritrade. The two were in New York on business and stayed in the 22-story World Trade Center Marriott Hotel, sandwiched between the two doomed towers.
They were in their rooms about 8:45 a.m. when the hotel shuddered twice. Shehan assumed it was an earthquake.
The destruction wasn't obvious from inside, she said. After getting information piecemeal, they headed to the lobby to find out what was happening.
The stairwell was full. Hands pushed them forward as firefighters flooded in. The crowd didn't panic: These buildings were built to withstand an errant plane, people said over and over.
In the lobby, guests lined up at the front door, where firefighters gave them a helmet to wear as they hustled them across the street one by one.
Across the street, Shehan waited for Flor. She gawked at the flaming towers, papers raining down, chunks of office equipment and hunks of metal littering the street.
A man cautioned: "Don't look behidn you. There's a guy's brains on the ground."
When Flor joined her, Shehan said, "I think we should run."
More than 1,000 miles away, Dr. Joe Shehan walked into his internal medicine clinic's lobby, oblivious to what held the rest of the nation rivited.
With his wife out of town, Shehan missed the morning news because he had been busy with their daughters, 6-year-old Maddie and 10-month-old Grace.
People had mentioned that something had happened in New York, but he didn't know the severity.
The magnitude sank in when he saw the gaping holes in the building on the clinic's TV. Before his eyes, the first World Trade Center twoer collapsed.
"My heart just stopped," he said. "The building fell over, and my wife's right there."
* * *
Dressed in a navy business suit and 3-inch heels, Suzanne Shehan began to sprint with Flor.
With the cloud of debris right behind them, they tucked them themselves around the side of an apartment building seconds before the mess thundered past.
They scooted along the wall until they found a door, slipping inside the lobby just before the air turned black.
They holed up with 100 people. A girl cried that she'd lost her friends. A man fed them false information that the Sears Tower and the White House had been struck. Soot-coated people banged on the windows to be let in.
* * *
In Omaha, Joe Shehan fled to his parents' house, watching the news in a daze. He kept getting calls with third- and fourth-hand reports that his wife was OK, but not from anyone he knew.
By 12:30 p.m., he couldn't stand it anymore.
"Mom," he said. "Take care of my kids. I'm going to be gone for a few days."
* * *
Once the debris cloud passed, Suzanne Shehan and Flor set out for help. They walked two blocks to the Hudson River.
Rescue workers put them in a fishing boat, packing the interior with women and perching men on the outside deck.
The pair were among the first to arrive to the safety of New Jersey, where they called relatives and work from a pay phone.
They had no money, no ID, no other clothes. But by coincidence, they did have company: other Ameritrade employees happened to be staying at a motel on that stretch of Jersey shore.
They hiked six miles around the marina to the hotel, arriving early in the afternoon. Shehan's newfound friends booked her a room, loaned her clothes, and gave her food.
By then, her husband had set out to retrieve her, driving 18 hours straight with a friend.
For the last two days, Maddie has been told simply that Daddy went to pick up Mommy.
And Thursday afternoon, Suzanne Shehan got to come home and give her two girls a big hug.
-- by Karyn Spencer, World-Herald Staff Writer
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