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Witness Tells of Disaster At World Trade Center

Aired September 11, 2001 - 13:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Matt Cornelius (ph), you were on the 64th floor, 65th floor?

MATT CORNELIUS, WORKER, WORLD TRADE CENTER: 65th floor. Yes, that's where I work.

BROWN: Tell me what happened.

CORNELIUS: Well, I arrived at work a little bit early today.

BROWN: What do you do?

CORNELIUS: I work for the Port Authority in the aviation department. I was just putting my stuff away, and all of a sudden we heard a loud crash and the building started shaking, kind of moving like a wave.

BROWN: What did you think was happening?

CORNELIUS: I had no idea. I mean we figured either an airplane had hit it or -- our first instinct was an airplane. And everyone started screaming and said, you know, "Move away from the windows, and let's get out of here."

And we saw debris fall past the window on the north side.

BROWN: Just to help our viewers kind of orient themselves, you were on the 65th floor of a building that is how many stories?

CORNELIUS: I believe it's 110.

BROWN: So 50 stories above you, this is taking place?

CORNELIUS: I imagine so. We really had no idea at all what had happened until we exited the building. I mean I had no idea of the magnitude.

BROWN: How did you get out?

CORNELIUS: Just took the stairs. I believe I actually was in the stairs as that same man because I remember the...

BROWN: Mr. Rodriguez (ph)?

CORNELIUS: ... yes, I saw the person in the wheelchair.

We made it pretty fast down to the 40th floor, and then from there the smoke got a little bit thick, and it was a lot slower. We maybe made a floor about every two minutes.

BROWN: And how many people are in this group with you?

CORNELIUS: Well, there was just one other person that I worked with us that was with us. It was packed. It was a virtual traffic jam in the stair case, up and down, I guess.

It was very full.

BROWN: People screaming?

CORNELIUS: No, actually, everyone maintained calm really well. I was impressed with that. I think for some people it brought back memories of the bombing, people that had been there before when that happened.

But I was amazed really. We got in the stairway. We were moving down when the fire department were coming up, saying "Move to the left, everyone move to the left." Everyone complied. A couple of people started crying a little bit, but you know, we said, "We're going to get out of here. We've just got to focus and take it one step at a time."

BROWN: Was it noisy or was there screaming?

CORNELIUS: No, it was...

BROWN: Was it quiet? Was it eerie?

CORNELIUS: No, it wasn't quiet. I mean, people were talking. In fact, someone was laughing. I kept hearing that. I thought that was strange. But it was pretty normal. And we didn't know what was going on. I mean, all we knew was something major had happened.

BROWN: Something had happened.

CORNELIUS: Exactly, but we didn't really understand the full severity of the situation, so people weren't panicking.

Once we got down to the -- they put us on the plaza level, which was disturbing because there was a lot of debris on the plaza level and a lot of carnage basically. We then moved out the back towards Broadway. And when they said -- the police were saying "Don't look back, don't look back."

And of course, I made it about a half of block, and I looked back and I saw the other tower on fire, and I couldn't believe it.

BROWN: Were you terrified?

CORNELIUS: Yes, when we were stuck in that stairway -- we stopped every now and then -- I started to get nervous. But we never had any fear of the building collapsing. We had no idea what was going on. So once I got out -- and it's still sinking in, the real full severity of it -- I mean it's just an awful, awful thing.

BROWN: That's true of everybody. You're a lucky man.

CORNELIUS: I am very lucky. I thank God very much.

BROWN: As well you might. Thank you.

CORNELIUS: OK.

BROWN: Thank you.

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