Originally published Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Clifford Gallant was at his computer on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center Tuesday when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of light.

Gallant, a 30-year-old stock analyst from South Portland, at first suspected a rogue lightning bolt, or a gas explosion in the center’s twin tower.

But moments later, as he and thousands of other workers were being frantically herded down the stairs and out of the 110-story skyscraper, Gallant knew something very terrible and terrifying was happening.

“I was in the stairwell, on the 55th floor, when they said the building was secure, ” Gallant said. “When I was on the 54th floor, the building was hit. It shook a lot and a big crack formed down the wall . . . People were moving very quickly, and some were having a hard time. There was a lot of crying and nerves.”

The scene that greeted Gallant when he finally exited the trembling building was surreal: wounded, bloody people were wandering or running through a cloud of dust and ash as debris – metal, concrete, glass – fell from the sky.

“The police were telling us to run. They were directing people just to run, to get away from the building, ” Gallant said.

Amid the chaos outside, Gallant used his cell phone to call his wife, and then his mother in South Portland, who was watching in horror as television replayed, again and again, the shocking video of an airliner slamming into the World Trade Center.

“For more than an hour, we didn’t know what had happened to Cliff, ” said Gallant’s younger brother, Michael, who was huddled in front of the TV with their mother. “Until he called, it was pretty hard to control our emotions.”

Gallant could not say Tuesday how many of his colleagues managed to escape, or how many didn’t, before the towers both thunderously collapsed about 90 minutes after the attack. But he said some of his coworkers never left the office Tuesday morning, apparently believing they were not in danger.

After Gallant returned home, a coworker’s spouse called, pleading for any news about her missing husband. It was a short and painful conversation.

“I had no idea where he was, ” Gallant said. “That was the hardest.”

At the same time that Gallant was near the top of the World Trade Center Tuesday morning, another Maine man, John Foss, was beneath it, changing trains.

Foss said he had stayed in Manhattan Monday night and took a subway to the World Trade Center station, arriving about 7:45 a.m., an hour before a plane smashed into the side of the north tower. He then boarded the train to New Jersey, at about 7:55 a.m.

Foss, who grew up in Maine and moved to Jersey City, N.J., from Portland about six months ago, works as an executive recruiter in an office complex on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, directly across from the World Trade Center.

After arriving at work, “Someone came in and said, `The World Trade Center is on fire, ‘ so we went outside and looked, ” Foss said. “It was horrifying to see. . . . The explosion was so intense that you could feel it in Jersey City. Flames were shooting out of the building, and paper documents were flying, and there were plumes and plumes of smoke.”

Foss said he didn’t see the second plane crash into the south tower, but saw the explosion and felt the impact of the collision.

Workers were sent home a short time later, he said. The south tower collapsed as Foss was making his way to his apartment about five blocks back from the river. From the street where he lives, “We saw this horrifying sight of just one tower standing, ” Foss said.

Foss said it is too soon after the attack to think about reconsidering his move to the New York area, but “it definitely makes you want to not work in a landmark building.”

Staff Writer Mark Shanahan can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]