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Day of Chaos and Terror, Part 1: A Veteran Trader Remembers 9/11

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It was a crystal clear morning, the kind you see perhaps once or twice a year.

I had developed a ritual that summer of meeting my best friend and fellow NYMEX trader Ron before work at the outdoor plaza in the shadow of the Twin Towers. We'd order iced coffees from a kiosk and discuss our lives, the news and the coming trading day.

This particular morning seemed to be one in which to luxuriate. It was so cloudless and clear, and the temperature begged for playing hooky and heading for the golf course. But Ron and I finished our coffees and walked toward the NYMEX, entering the covered overpass that spanned the West Side Highway and connected the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center.

Having walked about 150 feet into the overpass, we heard a blood-curdling noise. It sounded like someone had dropped 100 tons of metal poles on top of another 100 tons of metal. We flinched but didn't change our pace.

"What the f**k was that?" I asked.

"I don't know," Ron replied. "But it's not good."

We heard a commotion from behind us in the walkway. Hot air was blasting into the overpass, causing the people behind us to run instinctively. (Of course, we'd later learn that hot air had been blasted 80-plus floors down Tower 1's center after American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the tower.)

For a split second we watched the people running. It was a wave of heat and humanity, everyone and everything speeding toward us. Then we reacted like everybody else had -- we turned toward West Street and ran for our lives.

Ronny and I emerged from the walkway unscathed. Many of us who had run so fiercely now looked at each other and giggled with embarrassment. There were windows at the end of the walkway, and when we looked back through them, we stopped giggling.

We walked down the steps of the huge solarium in the mall area of the World Financial Center, passing the grove of 50-foot palm trees that were planted indoors. A testament to the power and money centered in Lower Manhattan, those trees received better care than most people in the world do. Dedicated sun lamps remained on all night to keep these tropical plants alive in a most nontropical environment.

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