Nine electricians from E-J Electric Installation Co. escaped from the World Trade Center before the 110-story Twin Towers collapsed.
“We had a total of 12 people down there, nine of whom were working that day,” said Tony Mann, president of E-J Electric, Long Island City, N.Y. “Thank God all of them got out alive. We were lucky. New York has been a war zone. It's unbelievable what's been going on here.”
E-J Electric, which had a satellite office in Tower 2, built and maintained the World Trade Center's entire security system. On the morning of Sept. 11, the electricians were doing routine maintenance work when the first hijacked commercial airliner slammed into Tower 1.
“Five minutes before it happened, one of our foremen was on the 107th floor,” Mann said. “His radio wasn't working, so he came down and was walking across the lobby when the first plane hit. He then ran down to the basement to make sure all our people got out.”
The electricians ran out of the World Trade Center and kept going, Mann said.
“A lot of them didn't stop until they got to Central Park,” Mann said. “They were lucky to get out early enough.”
Mann said he heard the news when someone interrupted his meeting at the Chrysler Building in midtown Manhattan.
“Someone said that the World Trade Center had been hit,” Mann said. “I immediately left the meeting and went back to our office because the cell phones were knocked out and you couldn't get service. The subways were still working at that point.”
When he arrived back at his office, he had to wait for hours for the news about his electricians.
“We didn't hear about any of our people until after noon,” he said. “They couldn't get phones to make a call because all of the phone lines were being overused. We talked to family members and people that had worked for us down there. They hadn't heard from them. It was a horrible couple of hours waiting to hear.”
While all nine of the electricians were accounted for, Mann said he lost many friends in the tragedy.
“I have several friends in my community that are missing and presumed dead,” Mann said. “If you're from this area, everyone you know knows someone who is missing. It's sad to see the friends missing with three little kids. It's horrible.”
Mann visited Ground Zero, where E-J is helping with the rescue and recovery effort. He described the site as “beyond words.”
“We brought communication cables to the military's floating hospital, which unfortunately, has turned into a morgue,” Mann said.
E-J also cooperated with the FBI to help with the investigation.
“We provided our entire database to the FBI,” Mann said. “They had 10 FBI agents at our subcontractor's office in California to download the backup database, which included information about everyone that worked there with their photographs.”
Jim Usher, vice president of communications, worked with the authorities to piece together what happened.
“The information was backed up on site, but it was also backed up on a remote location,” he said. “We have been able to access that data and we're cooperating with the authorities on this thing 100%.”
E-J Electric is also continuing with its construction projects in New York but expects construction to slow down in the city.
“All our airport jobs were shut down for a week and we believe that a lot of long-term projects will be cancelled or postponed,” he said. “There will be less of a priority on new projects and more of a priority on rebuilding.”
Silverstein Properties and the U.S. unit of the Australian shopping center group, Westfield, took over the leases for the World Trade Center from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey just seven weeks before the tragedy, according to CNN.com. The leases, which were estimated to be worth $3.2 billion, included 10.6 million sq ft of office space in the Twin Towers and two nine-level buildings and 427,000 sq ft of retail space in the shopping mall. The president of Silverstein Properties, Larry Silverstein, vowed to rebuild the site, but not necessarily as Twin Towers. Instead, the World Trade Center may be constructed as four 50-story office towers.
“He definitely wants to rebuild it as a symbol of our resolve against terrorism,” Mann said.
Vice President Jim Usher said he would like the World Trade Center to stand tall and proud once again.
“I would love to see them rebuild,” he said.
Security, however, will never be the same, he said.
“I think that the security issue throughout the world has already changed and is going to continue to change,” he said.