New York (Sept. 11, 2002) -- A year ago today, Internal Revenue Service spokesman Don Roberts was getting ready to change trains at the Pentagon station in Washington, DC .
CPA Peter Frank was in his midtown Manhattan office busily preparing for the final due date for corporate returns. American Institute of CPAs director of communications Joel Allegretti was en route to a meeting about the global credential and New York-based Thomson Tax and Accounting president and chief executive officer Peter Warwick was attending a seminar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Within minutes, their days and lives would be altered by the string of terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and left a gaping hole in the Pentagon.
Frank heard about the first plane crash when his wife called him on her cell phone, after getting a phone call from her mother in Chicago who had been watching the news. After the second plane hit, the couple made plans to pick their daughter up at school on the Upper West Side.
"I got into a cab and you could see a swarm of people slowly moving uptown," Frank recalls. After retrieving his daughter, Frank suggested they all eat lunch before heading down to their apartment on 80th Street. "My daughter said, ‘how could you eat at a time like this?’" he remembers.
When Allegretti walked into the AICPA’s midtown offices shortly before 9 a.m., he saw everyone standing around a TV set in the reception area, just after the first plane hit. Even after the second plane hit the south tower, Allegretti said the magnitude of what was happening didn’t yet strike him. "A friend from out of town called and said, ‘There’s been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, get out of the city’ and I said, ‘I know, but I need to get to a meeting.’"
"I was in the Pentagon metro station when the plane struck," recalls IRS spokesman Don Roberts. "Fortunately for me it was on the other side of the Pentagon.". He didn’t even realize anything was wrong until the train briefly emerged above ground and he saw a plume of black smoke rising from the structure. When he got to work, he heard about the twin towers, and along with the other employees, he was forced to leave the building a few hours later.
Thomason Tax & Accounting Chief Operating Officer Peter Warwick was attending a seminar in Cambridge, Mass., when it was interrupted by news of the terror attacks. He immediately tried calling the company’s downtown Manhattan offices to make sure everyone was OK but phone lines to the city were jammed. He quickly made plans with another seminar participant to share the cost of a car and driver back to the city. He arrived back in Queens by 10 p.m. and then took a subway to Manhattan and walked downtown to his home in Greenwich Village, just a few miles from where the towers stood just 12 hours before..
Warwick recalls that he was spared further anguish that sad day via a phone call from his wife shortly before he went into his seminar. She had taken an early shuttle from Boston to New York and landed just a few minutes before the first plane struck the World Trade Center. "That phone call was a godsend for me because in the first hours after the attacks, it wasn’t immediately known what planes were involved," Warwick said.
James Anchin, managing partner of midtown New York-based Anchin, Block & Anchin, was in the middle of his weekly executive meeting when a partner interrupted with the terrible news. "We quickly ended the meeting and turned on the news," he said. Eventually he and others migrated to the building manager’s office on the 25th floor who had a view of the unfolding tragedy.
After accounting for all of his employees who weren’t at the office, Anchin made sure the staff was fed and then tried to figure out whether it was safe to let people try to make it home, and whether the office should be closed.
It was a horrible new experience that I was never trained for in college or graduate school," Anchin said. "
CPA Robert Clarfeld, president of Clarfeld Financial Advisors in Tarrytown, N.Y., said he was on a conference call with a London client who happened to be tuned into CNN during the attacks and ironically found out from him what was going on in his own backyard.
Just two days earlier, Clarfeld had taken a family excursion around Manhattan on his 35-foot skiff and has a picture of his son on the bow with the World Trade Center in the background.
"I personally knew two people, clients, who died in the towers," Clarfeld said. Almost immediately afterwards, his firm, which has strong ties to the financial community, began fielding calls from widows and family members seeking tax and financial advice. Over the past year, the firm has worked pro bono for more than a dozen families, trying to help them rebuild their financial lives.
Saul Brenner, a partner at midtown-Manhattan based Berdon LLP, said he remembers the day as feeling entirely surreal. "You wanted to work, but you couldn’t work. You had things to do but you were glued to the television."
Although no one close to him died in the attacks, Brenner’s thankful that a friend who worked near the top of the south tower had the presence of mind to ignore building officials who told everyone to remain at their desks, and began walking down to the street just minutes before the second plane hit.
-- Tracey Miller-Segarra
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