CNN LARRY KING WEEKEND
Compelling Stories From Ground Zero
Aired October 6, 2001 - 21:00 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.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, we will visit ground zero, a place of unspeakable horror and extraordinary heroes. We also take you inside the Weill Cornell burn center where more than a dozen of World Trade Center victims are hospitalized. Plus, from the streets of Manhattan, New Yorkers tell us about sticking together and holding up, and compelling stories of survival and second chances -- all next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
Thanks for joining us. I have spent close to 44 years talking to people for a living. So I've got to figure I've got a knack for expressing myself. But when it comes to describing what I saw earlier this week at ground zero, I really cannot find the right words.
KING: Where are we?
THOMAS VON ESSEN, N.Y. FIRE COMMISSIONER: Well, we are pretty much dead center on, you know, the tragedy. This was the North Tower. That was the South Tower. As you know, the South Tower was hit first -- or hit second, but came down first. The North Tower is where we were in the early stages in the lobby, and when they realized that they had so much fire they were pushing more and more people upstairs into it to try to get the fire out, and people just coming in and in and in, and then when the second tower got hit, everybody knew that it was terrorism.
At first point, nobody knew. You know, we thought maybe it was a heart attack, somebody flying a plane -- nobody knew it was a commercial airliner with so much fuel on it. So, that began it. Just an unbelievable three weeks. You can see we've moved in an awful lot of heavy construction. They've taken out I think 167,000 tons already. It's just -- we think we will be here another nine months to a year really at this point.
KING: And the firemen go in every day, looking? It's not a rescue operation anymore.
VON ESSEN: No. I mean, we are -- we haven't called it a pure recovery, because every day we hope that, you know, if we are not going rescue a live firefighter or a live police officer or a live civilian, we are going to get their remains. So it's important to everybody that's here. I think it's important to the civilians that were brought here, and it's very important for the firefighters and police officers. So we are constantly trying at least to give them that dignity.
KING: How long will there be smoke? It will be a long time?
VON ESSEN: Yeah, you know, it will die down, and then we will pull some steel off it and get some oxygen on it, and it starts again. Yesterday, we had a good fire going in there.
You got to remember that there are six or seven stories below this of malls and subways and everything else. There's a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done. When this gets to ground level, we will have to attack it then, besides pulling out all of the debris, we have got to bring in all the engineers. There's 100 engineers working every day on this project, planning for when we get to that point when all of those different levels have to be reinforced.
KING: This -- tragic of the humanity, gone in here.
VON ESSEN: Yeah. I mean, now it looks like a construction site, no big deal. You know, they're pulling equipment. But there's 6,000 people. That's what it's -- that's the horror of it. The buildings will be replaced, but 6,000 people, it's -- that's...
KING: How do your men and women handle finding body parts and all that?
VON ESSEN: Believe it or not, they're very happy to find them. You know, everybody is resolved to the fact that we are not going to rescue any of our guys. There's always that dream that something that's going to happen, but I think they're resolved to that.
But they're happy now. We've gotten to the point where we can't believe it that we feel good if we tell a wife that we found remains of her husband. I mean, that's the saddest situation that we've ever been in, but that that has turned into a good thing, you know? So the guys are glad when they find remains. They're glad that they can take it out with some dignity and give the remains to the wife or the mother, and then people begin that process, you know.
KING: Incredible. Television doesn't show this.
VON ESSEN: No, no, it doesn't, it's really hard. The Verizon building is there, really, you know, knocked out communications down here. They've been working on that feverishly. Verizon has done an unbelievable job. The Merrill Lynch building behind this one around that side will be the first one to get back in operation.
KING: American Express is going to be a while.
VON ESSEN: Yeah, yeah. But I'll bet you two or three months.
KING: How long you been with the fire department?
VON ESSEN: Thirty-one years. Came on in 1970. You know, I figured only three months to go, I never dreamed. It's funny, when I first came on, an old-timer said to me: "Kid, the worst thing you'll have is a plane crash." I didn't know my last three months, I would have a plane crash at the World Trade Center.
KING: These buildings didn't implode, if they had fallen like if they toppled, it would have been...
VON ESSEN: Well, I don't know if it could have been much worse. I don't know if it could have been much worse, you know. I guess, you know, depending they're gone one way, it wouldn't have been as bad to the other direction.
KING: How do you know that there isn't some materials in there that might explode?
VON ESSEN: Well, I think they would have by now. You know, it's so hot, it's a really hot fire. The steel has been hot for three weeks now. Tremendous heat below, you know. It's -- the fire is not out down below.
KING: Subway working, damaged or what?
VON ESSEN: No, we got the word that -- oh, it's definitely damaged, but they got word to empty the trains, somebody made a good call on the other side of that in Jersey, and they sent no more trains. So I think they lost a train that was down there, but everybody got out.
KING: How do they coordinate all of this? How does one know what the other is doing?
VON ESSEN: It's broken into four sections. There's a chief in charge of each sector. Like I said, there's 100 engineers working on the project. FEMA has brought in all kinds of ability for us to plan and, you know, to do things we've never done before on such a large scale. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so they can get heavier equipment in. At this rate, we will be here a year. That's what the experts predict today, anyway. I guess a lot of that depends on the winter and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) building?
VON ESSEN: That's the building they were worried about collapsing.
KING: That one?
VON ESSEN: Yeah, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's got a little bit of a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the top, so people thought it was going to collapse. And in the first day or two, there was a lot of panic going on, because we didn't know. Now we have a handle on it, but the first day or two, they didn't know if there were secondary devices in other buildings, people were running, you know, very afraid.
KING: To get out of there.
VON ESSEN: Trying to find their guys. People just saw a firefighter they were working with, and they disappeared. They wanted to go back and try to find them, you know? Hear that?
VON ESSEN: Hear that piece of steel?
KING: Hear that piece of steel drop?
VON ESSEN: That's one piece of steel that's picked up in one truck, carried out. The weight of it is phenomenal. It probably took somebody an hour or two hours to cut.
KING: Hi, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. How are you doing?
KING: How are you doing, fellows?
Good seeing you. What's our role here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm no engineer, but they're trying to fill this hole. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a retaining wall that's holding the water back (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just pouring the water in to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
KING: It's really hot in there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what gave us so much hope in the beginning. We thought maybe (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
VON ESSEN: ... find somebody, you know. But as time goes by, the guys go down, they crawl around into all of these things, look in, they're trying to find, doing the best they can, but just, you know, you see the weight of this steel and the debris and the amount of heat that was down there -- we don't believe we are going to find anybody anymore.
But they were going crazy the first week, you know, 10 days, two weeks, just hoping that they'd have a miracle and in a void like that they'd find somebody.
KING: How many days after there was a live person found, two?
VON ESSEN: No, nobody.
KING: Was anyone ever found?
VON ESSEN: We didn't find anybody afterward. Right that day, there were some people pulled out...
KING: Like in the afternoon?
VON ESSEN: Yeah, but after that there was nobody. And usually, you don't have that. When you have a collapse...
KING: You find someone. VON ESSEN: Yeah. You know, the thing is cantilevered, something is dripping water, there's air, there's oxygen. You know, people can survive a long time. But with this, the compression, the weight and everything was just -- but that was, that's what drove everybody in the beginning. Now it's -- now it's just trying to find somebody's remains is what's driving the guys.
KING: And you could find it anywhere, right?
VON ESSEN: Yeah. Look at this. You get like this, it's -- your second year?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
VON ESSEN: His second year on the job, you know.
KING: Why are there...
VON ESSEN: Took me 31 years to see something like this. He's seeing it in his second year, you know.
KING: You think a lot of the bodies just...
VON ESSEN: Yeah.
KING: Turned to dust?
VON ESSEN: I think a lot of them -- the heat, just the so...
VON ESSEN: Yeah. And the compression, the weight of 110 stories turned into 80 feet, you know, all 110 stories -- we had to 80 feet of rubble when we started. So, you know, you know, so what can you do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, how are you? I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you all the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you.
KING: Nice to meet you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), they put it together here when they find a body. We have to put it in a bag and bring them out.
KING: Are you finding something every day, or are there days you find nothing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some days, we don't find anything. And other days, we find groups of guys, you know. It depends. Varies from day to day with so much rubble.
KING: How do you ever get used to that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we've been doing it every other day. I've been here every other day since the attack, and the destruction here is beyond incredible. There's still like, over 5,000 bodies still there, and we haven't found them. That's how much destruction there is.
KING: And you can smell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can smell it, yeah. That's why they give us this, they give us the Vicks. Put it under your nose, it will take away from the stench. And then they gave us this one here. This is for the asbestos and dust, so we are pretty well...
KING: No way you could have trained for this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man, this is beyond all training. I mean, the job is just devastating here. There's no way you can prepare for something like this. This is really an act of war, so.
KING: How many hours a day you work?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are working 13-hour shifts around the clock.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The schedule that we have is overwhelming. Sunday, we went to two funerals, Dave Weiss (ph) who used to work with us (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and the other guy Chief Farber (ph), that was on Sunday. So we had those two funerals, and Monday I had to work, Tuesday I had to work, Wednesday we're here, tomorrow we have another funeral to go upstate to, and then tomorrow night I have to go back to work and Friday night I have to go back to work.
KING: When you say night, you work what hours? All night?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. So it seems to be all we do is work and we go to funerals, and then back to work and back to funerals.
KING: You guys work hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great, great men. I don't know where we get them, but we get them someplace time after time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
KING: You're not surprised at how good they are?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not surprised a bit. Not surprised a bit. They gave 110 percent, 150, whatever we ask we get it from them.
KING: So everybody must have lost somebody you know, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, some more. I have 34 years, so I knew almost everybody. I knew 200 guys. It's like losing 200 friends in one day.
KING: You guys are doing a great job. The whole world appreciates it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do our best.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're doing out best.
KING: You're doing more than that.
KING: Earlier this week, I visited the Weill Cornell burn center where more than a dozen victims from the Trade Center are being cared for. The first patient I talked with was Paris Hernandon (ph). He was in an elevator when it all happened. Watch this.
PARIS HERNANDON, WTC BURN VICTIM: So everything was normal. It closed. Before it could have moved, I heard a boom, and then, debris started falling on us, oil has started to fall on us, and sparks. We were all on fire.
KING: How did you get out?
HERNANDON: Well, that's the point I'm coming to. So we were, all the ladies were screaming and everything, and I came to a point, like this is it. But I saw a lady, a tall, big, striking lady, and I don't know how she got her fingers between the doors, and she pries open it like that.
KING: Elevator doors?
HERNANDON: Yeah, the elevator doors. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but I was all on fire. As soon as I got out of the elevator, I tried to get the fire out of my head and my hands. My shirt was ablaze too. But I couldn't get it out. So I rolled on the mats (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But I finally got the fire out of me, and I looked and I saw nobody.
KING: You were all alone.
HERNANDON: They were all gone, and there was smoke, smoke. So I took some time to come to my senses. Then, when I looked, I saw a hand in a door. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the person went down, so I said there is the best way. I headed toward it, I opened the door and I saw a stairway, and I started to get down.
KING: How was he treated, doctor?
DR. ROGER YURT, WEILL CORNELL MEDICAL CENTER: Well, when he first got here, he was actually having trouble with breathing and he was on the respirator. And he was -- so he was treated to maintain the function of his lungs, and then we took him into what we call the tank room, and cleaned up his wounds, took off the dead tissue and so forth, and put him in a white cream that we use, an antibiotic cream.
KING: Were you in a lot of pain?
HERNANDON: Yes, I was. My whole skin was ablaze, blazing fire. A lot of pain, a lot of pain.
KING: You were conscious?
HERNANDON: I was, I was conscious.
KING: Continued good luck.
HERNANDON: Thank you.
KING: Thank you so much. Thank you, doctor.
What was the scene like here when you arrived?
YURT: It was sort of -- it was like a war zone. I mean, there were just people all over the place, setting up rooms, getting organized for the patients. That was one of the things that was impressive was our nurses and staff just came. They weren't called in. They just all came.
KING: They knew to come.
YURT: They knew. They knew they better get here.
KING: So you were fully staffed.
YURT: We were fully staffed, yes.
KING: I imagine a lot of people walked.
YURT: People coming over -- walking over the bridges, people walking here, yes.
KING: And with Dr. Yurt now, we visit another burn patient, Busana Mutatana (ph). She is Thai. Her name Busana (ph), which means very lucky.
BUSANA MUTATANA, WTC BURN VICTIM: Yes, my name means very lucky.
KING: A very appropriate name.
What happened, Busana (ph)?
MUTATANA: I heard the explosion sound.
KING: So you heard the sound?
MUTATANA: Yeah, I heard the explosion sound, like boom, boom, like that, and we kind of stopped and asked, what's going on? And you know, no one answered anything as yet. The smoke coming out from the elevator, not the passenger elevators, the freight elevators. So we start turning back, and say, let's go, so I ran, you know, very fast out of the building from the west side.
KING: So you were safe, you figured?
MUTATANA: Yeah, I figured I can manage it, you know. I ran very quick outside the building, and I was very lucky because probably (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very early, so I fell down after 10 feet off of the building on the west side. Yeah, and just lie down there, just few seconds, I feel like a heat swept through my back and my skirt. I feel like very, very, hot, you know, heat swept through like that. I kind of turned my face to the side, and I see the kind of sand storm and the ball of fire coming out from the building, like huge.
KING: Came out from the main floor of the building?
MUTATANA: Yeah, came out from there, the west gate of the building, and with that I saw girls and many others who usually smoke in the morning before they go in to work, blew away with that fire on their back and their hair. Everybody was just go, like, screaming.
KING: And you stayed on the ground?
MUTATANA: I still stayed on the ground, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you know. But then, after probably five minutes, my husband -- actually, you know, he walked into that building with me.
KING: He works there too?
MUTATANA: He works there too, but then on that day he was luckier than me. He walked separate. He's not going up with me by that day, he say he's going to buy something from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) store. So he walked the other way, so then he came back and extend his hand, and pulled me up and tried to, you know, help me.
KING: She looks terrific. Where were her burns?
YURT: Her entire back was burned, both of her legs were extensively burned. She had about 40 percent of her body was burned.
KING: Was she in danger?
YURT: Oh, yes, she was at high risk. She has had two operations. She had her entire back grafted, and both of her legs have been skin grafted.
KING: Thank you. Good luck.
MUTATANA: Very nice to see you. Thank you.
YURT: I'll see you later.
KING: Extraordinary, the attitude, doctor.
YURT: Yes. She's very strong.
KING: Brian Reeves (ph), who I urge later not to run out. How are you doing, Brian?
BRIAN REEVES, WTC BURN VICTIM: OK, Mr. King.
KING: So where were you when that happened?
REEVES: I had entered the building, because I had just started my rounds. I entered the building, was going to the lobby post. After the lobby post, I was supposed to visit two or three times, and I was just starting my first round inside the lobby.
REEVES: And when I went inside and I went to the first guard, I guess that's when the plane hit. And he had turned around -- I didn't feel the shake the way he did -- I don't know if it's because of the way they emptied the building or what, and he looked at me and asked me, "was that a bomb?" And I said, "I don't know." And on the opposite side, that's when a lot of debris started falling, and we just ran. And I started to run outside, and when I ran outside there was like a gust of wind that knocked me over.
KING: How did you get burned?
REEVES: I don't know when I got burned, but I just know when it knocked me over, the was -- there was something, the windows blew out. And when the windows blew out, I was on the ground, and like I said, there was a gust of wind. And when I opened my eyes, I seen a bright orange light.
REEVES: Yeah, and I screamed, and my son flashed before me right in front of my face.
KING: Your son's face?
REEVES: Yeah, my son's face.
KING: How old is he?
REEVES: He's right there. In the picture, he's 7. Right against the wall there.
KING: He was in school?
REEVES: Yeah. His face flashed before me, and I just got up and ran. Wanted to see if I had another chance, you know, so.
KING: Did you know you were burned?
REEVES: Well, yeah, I think my coat was on fire. And I went around by West Street, where the Olympia bus pulled up, and I felt heat and I went over, and I was thinking that I was going to try to jump in the bushes (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but if I was on fire, the bushes (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so I just started to take off my jacket. Took off my jacket. On one side, I guess wasn't burning no more. I had the sense that I wasn't burning no more. I started to make my way up the street to where they had the ramps, one of the ramps there.
KING: Yeah. It's gone now.
REEVES: I went over there, and the guard that was in there told me -- you know, he looked at me and he said -- he asked what happened to me, and he told me to sit down, but I just kept moving.
KING: Tell me what was the condition of Brian.
YURT: Brian was stable, but he had a major burn. He was in a lot of pain.
YURT: Worst burns were on his back, some burns up on his head. Burns on your arms also, right? And he ended up having to have surgery, and actually Dr. Bauer (ph) is going to be planning to operate again tomorrow, is that right? To do more grafting on his back.
KING: Good luck. You've got a great little boy. Thanks, Brian.
KING: We are with two more patients on the burn unit, both of whom worked at the World Trade Center. They are Ling Yang (ph), over here and Mary Jo is over here. What did you do at the center, Mary?
MARY JO, WTC BURN VICTIM: I worked for the state of New York.
KING: What floor?
MARY JO: 86th floor.
KING: What happened?
MARY JO: Boy, after the tower one was hit, we had kind of all decided that regardless of what the Trade Center said, we were going to leave the building. And after notifying everybody on our floor, we went down to the 78th floor. But before we could leave there, the plane hit.
KING: You knew it was a plane?
MARY JO: Not at the time. Right afterward, we found out. But there was an explosion. I was thrown, and where the damage was happening.
KING: And Ling (ph), where were you?
LING YANG, WTC BURN VICTIM: Exactly where she is.
KING: You worked together?
KING: Worked for the state of New York.
MARY JO: Twenty-five years we've been.
YANG: I actually, 27.
KING: So you went down too? Did you fall?
YANG: No, I got the same thing. I was blown out, and actually I didn't know she went down already. And we sat down, and we actually sat at the debris for I don't know how long, because we didn't know what the stairs was. I didn't know where the stairs was, until someone came up and said, hey, you know, we found the stairs. And that's when I...
KING: When did you get those burns?
YANG: At the time when the plane hit.
KING: Right at the -- and your burns?
MARY JO: Same thing.
KING: So, did you know you were on fire, in a sense?
YANG: No, I wasn't on fire, I think it was from the heat.
MARY JO: That's what we were told, it was the heat.
KING: How did you get out?
MARY JO: Walked down 78 flights.
YANG: Yeah, we walked.
KING: In pain?
MARY JO: Yeah. I was very fortunate and to a certain extent I walked -- I got down a flight of stairs and there was a gentleman, early 30s, named Eric, and I looked at him and I said, "can you help me?" And he literally helped me down 77 flights of stairs.
KING: Helped you by holding your hand?
MARY JO: Just holding my hand, talking to me, trying to focus me away from everything that had happened to family, to whatever, to get me down.
KING: How did you get down? YANG: I -- like I said, someone came up and said to me, you know, "there's the stairs, follow me," and I went all the way down. And I understand from later that the fire marshal actually escorted me down to the 40th floor. I took the service elevator downstairs.
KING: That worked?
YANG: And when I went downstairs, I was supposed to be on the concourse, but somehow the fireman took me outside. And if he didn't take me outside, I would not be here. And I have a lot to thank to the fire marshal.
KING: And the ambulances get to you right away?
MARY JO: They were fantastic, and they brought us up here, thank God.
KING: Did you come together?
YANG: We were together, believe it or not.
KING: You're going to get tired of each other.
YANG: Yeah, I'm telling you, it's just like coincidence.
MARY JO: Thank God we were together.
KING: You feel lucky, girls?
MARY JO: Oh, God, yes, very lucky.
YANG: So lucky that I can't even describe it.
MARY JO: Yeah.
KING: Thank you both.
MARY JO: Thank you so much.
KING: Thank you. Good luck.
Doctor, you do great work.
MARY JO: Yes, they do.
KING: You ought to be very proud (UNINTELLIGIBLE). KING: These firemen were amazing. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people there, and the ambulance workers, the emergency room.
YURT: They were. I mean, we lost I think seven ambulances at the scene. We lost some of our own paramedics, we lost people down there.
YURT: And so, it's amazing that they could still mobilize and get patients moved around.
KING: Doctor, I want to thank you very much.
YURT: Thank you for coming.
KING: I know you got another surgery. Continued good work.
YURT: Thank you.
KING: Thanks for this. We are at the New York Presbyterian Cornell medical center, and this is the burn unit, and with Dr. Yurt, I'm Larry King.
KING: Arturo and Carmen Griffith, husband and wife, also used to be elevator operators at the World Trade Center. Both were hurt on September 11. They ended up in different hospitals. For three long days, each feared the other had not survived.
KING: Where were you when everything hit?
CARMEN GRIFFITH, WTC SURVIVOR: I was on the 78th floor, inside of an elevator with six other people, ready to take them up to Cantor Fitzgerald.
KING: And what happened?
C. GRIFFITH: I couldn't even take off because there was a loud noise. And we all bent down and put our hands over our heads and we started screaming because stuff was coming down on top of the elevator. And the next thing we heard was an explosion and the side panel of the elevator opened up like a "V" and fire just came inside of the elevator; it was burning all of us.
KING: How did you get out of the elevator?
C. GRIFFITH: I was inside of the elevator, trying to open the doors, and the door button wouldn't work. So I said that I didn't want to die that way. I put my fingers in between the elevator doors and pried it open, and it only opened up this much. KING: And you got out that way?
C. GRIFFITH: Before I got out, I felt somebody running through, like between my legs, out of the elevator, and somebody jumped over me. And when I looked back, a big draft of fire hit me in my face. I had closed my eyes real tight because I saw it right in front of me.
KING: Oh my God.
C. GRIFFITH: And I got out of the elevator and laid on the floor and patted my hands. And I took my jacket off and I put off the fire on my hands and my face, and I was screaming to my coworker Arlene (ph), and she said that she couldn't come to me because she didn't know what was going to happen. So what happened was...
KING: So how did you -- what happened?
C. GRIFFITH: She called me and she said, follow my voice. There was no lights, nothing but smoke and debris all over the place and people screaming. So I crawled to her and I looked up at the wall, and the wall was split in half. And I said to her, we got to get out of here, look at the wall.
And they took us inside of an office, and the gentleman there was like the captain for the fire department. If there's a fire, they all come up and they're suppose to report to him.
KING: Did you wind under going down the stairs?
C. GRIFFITH: Yes. He told us to take the stairwells to the left because I was too excited. I didn't want to stay there.
KING: So you're burned and you're hurt, and you go down 78 floors?
C. GRIFFITH: Yes.
KING: Let me check with Arturo.
Arturo, you were manning what, a freight elevator?
ARTURO GRIFFITH, WTC SURVIVOR: I was running 58 cars -- the elevators that going to 86 to 108th floor.
KING: Where were you when it happened?
A. GRIFFITH: Well, I was on my way from B-2 to 49th floor. And as I took off, it was amount it was a matter of seconds -- five, six, seven seconds, I don't know. And there was a loud explosion and the elevator dropped. And when the elevator dropped there was a lot of debris and cables falling on top of the elevator. And I just -- I just put my hand over my said and I said, oh God I'm going to die. But I didn't know what was happening.
When the elevator finally stopped, they had an explosion that bring the doors inside the elevator, and I think I'm sure that that was what broke my leg. And then they had another explosion and the panel that threw me, you know, against the wall, and I guess I was unconscious for a couple of minutes because somebody else was in the elevator with me, and they say that they was trying to get my attention and they didn't get no response from me.
KING: Now, you went to -- you were taken to what hospital?
A. GRIFFITH: I was taken to St. Vincent's hospital.
KING: You had no idea where Carmen was, right?
A. GRIFFITH: Well, at the moment, I really didn't know what happened.
KING: And Carmen, you were taken to a different hospital?
C. GRIFFITH: Yes, I was.
KING: So you had no idea what happened to Arturo and Arturo had no idea what happened to you?
C. GRIFFITH: Right. I didn't know where he was.
KING: How did you make the connection, Carmen?
C. GRIFFITH: I was -- for two days my eyes were swollen, maybe three, and I couldn't see anybody. And something told me to call my aunt and my mother and let my mother know. And I told them that my mother is very ill because she just came out of the hospital; she's diabetic. And I told them to just tell her the truth, that I'm all right, but that I'm burnt, and where I was, the hospital that I was in. And she said thank God, and she said that she will let my husband know.
KING: And Arturo, how did you know that Carmen was all right, or at least not dead?
A. GRIFFITH: Well, I went to the hospital. They took me to the hospital and as I -- they went through everything, the tests and all that -- they took me to the seventh floor and I called my mother in law, and I told her that I was alive and with a broken leg. If she did hear anything, you know, from Carmen? She said no, but I will let you know if anything.
So that day they gave me all medicine for pain, but that night I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about her. And the following day in the morning they told me that I was going to get surgery done at 3:00 in the afternoon. And I called my mother in law and I told her, listen, I'm going to have surgery at 3:00. You hear anything about Carmen? She said no, but we're still -- we will let you know if anything.
So when I came out of surgery, I called. And she say son, we found your wife. She is in Long Island College Hospital; she's in the ICU unit; she is burned, but she's alive.
A. GRIFFITH: And that was -- that was the best day of my life.
KING: And it was the fourth or fifth day that you finally spoke to each other, right Carmen?
C. GRIFFITH: A couple of -- after that I got called at the hospital at ICU and I was told that we was in St. Vincent's and that he was alive and that he had a broken leg, and that they were doing surgery.
KING: And Arturo, they moved you to Long Island, right? They moved you to Long Island College Hospital, and you're both in the same room now?
A. GRIFFITH: Yes.
C. GRIFFITH: Right. On the 19th they had brought him over.
KING: Wow. And you both get to go home?
C. GRIFFITH: Yes.
A. GRIFFITH: Yes.
KING: How are you feeling, Carmen?
C. GRIFFITH: Oh, I'm a little well done, but I'm all right.
KING: Sense of humor. I salute both of you. What a great story.
Arturo Griffith, Carmen Griffith both work at the World Trade Center; he's in the freight elevator, she's in a regular elevator; she gets burned, he breaks a leg, they go to different hospitals. Four or five days later they wind up together, both living, and both get to go home.
Another incredible story in a saga of stories. We'll be right back.
KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE an extraordinary story. Louis Lesce is here with his wife Karen. Also with us is Pete Rushing. All are involved in a story of September 11, 2001.
We'll start with Lewis. You were in the World Trade Center?
LOUIS LESCE, WTC SURVIVOR: I was on the 86th floor.
KING: Worked there?
L. LESCE: I was doing a job for port authority because I work for Leehath (ph) Harrison, which is a career management -- and they were hired...
KING: Like a consulting thing?
L. LESCE: Yes, and they were hired by port authority.
KING: So what happened?
L. LESCE: I was looking at some resumes and there was a tremor. And I felt it was an earthquake, and not a big problem. Two second later there was a huge explosion and the ceiling fell and the room filled with smoke. And then I decided, based upon that, to get up, I went down the hall.
KING: Good thinking, Lou.
L. LESCE: Yeah. I went down the hall, saw -- there were five other people in that section, and smoke was beginning to fill. We went to the door, there was a wall of black smoke and we couldn't get out. So I went to the phony, I dialed my wife and I said to her, there's smoke here, a ceiling fell, I don't know if they're going to find us, I don't know what's going to happen, I love you; and I hung up.
KING: What did you think?
KAREN LESCE, WIFE OF LOUIS LESCE: First I said to him, are you kidding? Because I wasn't aware of anything. He said no, I'm serious. I said OK, I love you, and good-bye, and I hung up.
KING: Did you turn on the TV?
K. LESCE: No.
KING: Did not?
K. LESCE: No, I did not. I didn't do anything. I had a phone call.
KING: You hang tough, Pete, we're getting to you.
What happens next?
L. LESCE: Someone opened the door and said, anybody here? I said yes, let's get going. Now the smoke had turned gray. We went out, there were just flashlights; you could see just beams. And we started the trek down 86 flights.
KING: And called your wife again?
L. LESCE: I didn't call her until I got out of the building.
KING: Going down the 86 flights, you lose your briefcase?
L. LESCE: No, actually a gentleman says to me, he says, you look kind of tired, why don't you take off your jacket?
KING: You have a heart condition, right?
L. LESCE: I have a stent and bypass -- quadruple.
KING: Welcome to the club.
L. LESCE: Yeah. And he said, I'll hold your jacket. So I gave him the my jacket; didn't take the wallet out, because I figured we'd meet downstairs, there wouldn't be a problem.
Another gentleman says, let me hold your briefcase. Fine.
KING: You had no idea a plane had hit the building?
L. LESCE: No, none whatsoever.
KING: Pete, you're in the building, too?
PETE RUSHING, WTC SURVIVOR: Yes; I work on the 80th floor.
RUSHING: I'm actually a proposal and contract manager for a company called The Beast.
KING: The Beast; appropriate enough. What happened to you?
RUSHING: When it first happened, I was actually at my desk. I got there around 7:30 that morning and I was working on a presentation for the CEO. And also, like Lou, felt a large vibration, and then ceiling tiles started coming down and it felt like an earthquake. That's the only way to describe it.
KING: You went downstairs, too?
RUSHING: Yes, I went immediately down the to local stairwell, and it was on fire. So then we went down to the other stairwell, got down to the 78th floor and the door was locked. So a few people panicked, I was just OK; you know, one more thing we got to get over now.
So we went back up to the 79th floor. We had a TV available to us and we were able to find out that a plane hit, and terrorism. That's all we knew the whole way down.
KING: Now, the viewers may well be saying: What's the connection between Pete and Lou. What happened?
RUSHING: Well, I believe -- we were trying to figure out today what floor it was -- but I want to say it was in between the 20s and 30s going down that I tripped over a briefcase. I picked it up, one, because I didn't want anyone else to trip over it, and then I kind of held onto it and it was like my security blanket the rest of the way down.
And, like Lou went through -- finally got down to about the 13th floor, I was still in the building. I found out that's when building two had collapsed. And I sent an e-mail to get in touch with my parents saying good-bye, I love you guys, because we thought this was it. We thought it was a bomb because the last thing we heard was terrorism.
So then the lights were flickering the whole time; finally the lights went out. We had water up to our ankles and there were electric, live wires above us and it was pitch black. So we're ducking down, holding on to each other's belt buckles and shoulders.
KING: And you've still got the briefcase.
RUSHING: Still had the briefcase tucked underneath my arm the whole time.
KING: What do you do with the briefcase now that you're safe?
RUSHING: Well I -- actually, as soon as we got out of the building, my coworkers are across the street telling me that they have water. Then they look up and they tell me to run. So I was like, no, I'm OK, I'm safe. They said "run."
So I turned around, I see the building starting to collapse. So we ran a good 10 blocks. Once we were to what I would call safety at that point, my cell phone battery was dead at that point. I usually charge it every morning in the beginning. So I looked in the briefcase and I found his cell phone. So I figured, I've got to get in touch with my family and let them know I'm alive because my sister works in the city, my father works in the city, and it was pretty much my only way of doing so.
And I was able to use his cell phone, get in touch with my family and make a phone call and let them know I was alive and I'd get out of the city somehow.
KING: How did you get the briefcase back to him?
RUSHING: Actually, I met his stepson in the city and gave it to his son.
L. LESCE: When we came back from the hospital he had left a message on my phone.
KING: As I understand it, this is the first time you two have met?
RUSHING: Yes, it is.
KING: Boy, what a story. Thank you all very much. Congratulations.
L. LESCE: Thank you very much.
RUSHING: Thank you.
K. LESCE: Thank you. KING: Louis Lesce, Karen Lesce and Pete Rushing, one of the hundreds and hundreds of stories that constantly amaze us. We'll be right back.
KING: Seems incongruous, the tranquility of Central Park behind me, the buzz of New York in front of me, and what happened a couple of miles south. I'm Larry King, back home.
Officer Higgins (ph), what's your first name?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: Brian.
KING: Brian, nice American name.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: Nice American name.
KING: Where were you on September 11?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: Standing right on 5th Avenue by St. Patrick's.
KING: And what happened?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: Well, you had could see the towers in the distance, and the smoke. And we watched one go down. Just actually watched it fall.
KING: What about how everybody's reacted -- cops, you fellows? Surprised at any of it, how they've ennobled themselves?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: No. I hate to sound...
KING: Go ahead, you're New York's finest.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: We responded the way I knew we would. You know, as time goes on, you get angry about it because there's still -- you know, I mean, the firemen; but there's 23 people in my uniform down there that haven't been found yet, and that gets you angry. Now it gets you angry; then you reacted to the situation, but now you start to get angry.
KING: How that has this changed you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In every conceivable way. I can't express the depression I've been in since then, along with everybody else. I mean, it's been a very difficult time; and how do you solve it? How do you find somebody who has done something like this?
KING: At the same time, are you proud of how your city has handle it, your firemen, your policemen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't go into that. It's unbelievable what they've done.
KING: And you mean you heard Giuliani say, come to New York, and you came?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. A week and a half ago I heard Giuliani say at a press conference say, if you really want to help New York, come to New York; you know, come stay in our hotels, come to the restaurants.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did all those things.
KING: Were you worried about the airplane?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. We feel very safe in an airplane. We're very impressed with the new security, and feel very comfortable.
KING: Boy, this is an up sign. So you would say to people, and we're being watched all over the world, come to New York?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely. It was an incredible experience to be here, to go down to the site. It was very sad.
KING: Yeah, but you enjoyed the city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we enjoyed the city. It's the greatest city in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, 131!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shawn, picking up a special!
KING: This is a beautiful restaurant, Scott (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very nice to meet you.
KING: What was the mood like of the diners and the people working here first night after?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just like everybody else in New York; they just had that glazed look in their eye. It was kind of frightening; I've never seen anything like it in my life. Just sort of a blank look, you know.
And all we did at the pre-shift meet when we talked to the servers is say, you know what, if we can make them forget for five minutes, let's do it tonight; let's do it with food, lets do it with wine, let's do it with whatever we can, and let's let them check out for five minutes at least, you know. So that's been the tone. That's what we've been trying to do.
KING: Business coming back?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Business is down about 50 percent...
KING: Fifty? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... throughout the city. At least 50 percent; some people more, some people less, depending on whether you're in the theater district, in a hotel. That seems to be the most hurtful. The neighborhood places are thriving a little more.
But overall without the people coming in from the suburbs, going to shows; without the air travel, without the international travel, without the expense accounts, people going out and throwing parties, we're really suffering.
KING: Do you feel absence of pride as a New Yorker as to how all the people have handled this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we already knew that. Everybody in New York knew that we would pull together. We always pull together. You see snowstorms, hurricanes, doesn't matter, you know. People will just jump out in the street and help you push your car out of a snow drift; it's always been like that. And I was very happy to be a New Yorker every day of this, because everybody pulled together even more.
KING: What's business been like?
UNIDENTIFIED BARTENDER: Oh, took a huge nosedive. At first it was like -- but then when people started petering in it was like group therapy. Everybody wants to tell their story, everybody wants to say where they were, and wants to tell you how decimated things are. And it really -- you know, I did the best I could with that, I asked them how they felt and all that, but...
KING: Bartenders have to do that.
UNIDENTIFIED BARTENDER: Yes. There was a guy who came in once and he said he had 19 funerals to go to. And I -- I know. I was just shocked. I said, how do you that? He said, I have no idea; what are you going to do? Just because, I mean, reflective therapy. I was just like oh, my God. I was just blown away.
KING: Are more people drinking?
UNIDENTIFIED BARTENDER: Yes, yes, really, all the time.
KING: Fair answer.
UNIDENTIFIED BARTENDER: And business has been picking up within the first week or two. It's not quite what it was before. But, yes, people are drinking also harder; you know, a lot less wine is getting sold.
KING: We're in front of the world famous Plaza Hole tell with Edward, who has been the doorman here how long?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: Thirty-eight years, Mr. King.
KING: You're going stay, Edward?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: I'm going to stay; I found a home. KING: Where were you that morning of September 11?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: I was standing right here, 9:00 in the morning, looking out on the street at a quarter to 9:00. And then all of a sudden somebody tells me about a newscast. And I ran over to the street over here and we could see the flames and the smoke own 5th Avenue.
KING: From up here?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: A crowd of people from right over here about 9:00 that morning.
KING: What's been the reaction since -- first, I would guess less tourists.
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: Yes, all of a sudden it really dropped; the bottom dropped out for that first week. But we've got people coming back now. It's starting to pick up, and people are coming into the city. And I think the mayor did a good job, and he's trying to bring people in. I had a lot of people come shopping. I had, even, people coming in from Alaska trying to get in here to see New York.
KING: Getting better every day?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: Getting better and better. And the weather helped, too, this week. It was very good that we had nice weather.
KING: Have you noticed a kind of difference in people?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: I tell you, people are more -- everybody loves New York now. It's just something that...
KING: We're in.
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: ... everybody got together and everybody got friendly, and different stories I heard years ago about New York have changed. They have such a good attitude now about New Yorkers.
KING: That's the good part.
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: That's the great part.
KING: The down part is New Yorkers are a little different now, aren't they?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: that's it, yeah. We're all sad; we're all very sad. And we respect, now, the firemen and the policemen now. I mean, it gives you a difference perspective.
KING: It's good to hear that whistle. That means they're looking for a cab, right?
UNIDENTIFIED DOORMAN: That means we're back in business.
KING: I know these things.
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