HE WAS sitting at his desk on the 63rd floor of the North Tower on September 11 when the building suddenly shook.

Paul Neal, a 40-year-old transport consultant, had arrived back in New York a day earlier following a return visit to Sussex to watch Brighton and Hove Albion take on Queens Park Rangers.

“On the Tuesday morning, because I was a semi-jet lagged, I had got into the office a little early”, Paul said.

The Argus: Paul's apartment (red brick on the left) on the east side of Manhattan Island with the World Trade Center behind. Paul's apartment (red brick on the left) on the east side of Manhattan Island with the World Trade Center behind.

“My apartment was just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center in Battery Park City so I could walk along the Hudson River front and through various office buildings into the Twin Towers.

“My office was on the 63rd floor of the North Tower.

“I got into the office at about 8.15am. I logged on, started checking my emails, getting a coffee – all the things you do when you first get into work.

“There was probably only around three or four of us in that corner of the building.

“It was then that the building began to shake and sway. We went one way and then we came back.

“There was lots of dust and residue up on the ceiling floating down.

“I thought ‘well that’s strange’.”

The first hijacked plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8.46 am.

Paul said that while it was clear that something serious had happened, he did not feel that he was in immediate danger.

The Argus: Paul was working in the North Tower on 9/11Paul was working in the North Tower on 9/11

“Other than the initial impact, you wouldn’t know anything had happened,” he said.

“I went over to the tall, rectangular windows and all I could see was paper floating around. I didn’t know at the time, but it was being blown out of the upper floors.

“I was thinking ‘I don’t want to walk down 63 flights of stairs if the problem was at the bottom of the towers’, but all this is happening quickly.

“Then I got a call from a college who also worked downtown, and he said ‘Paul, if you’re still there you’ve got to get out because the top of your building is like a chimney'.

“This all took around two or three minutes. You’re trying to get your bearings because you don’t want to rush out of a place of relative safety when you don’t know what you’re going into.”

Paul, who is now 60-years-old and living in California, headed to the stairs with his colleagues and began the long descent.

As the flames took hold of the upper storeys, Paul said the sense of panic had not yet reached the lower floors.

The Argus: Albion fan Paul said he was just metres away from the North Tower when it collapsedAlbion fan Paul said he was just metres away from the North Tower when it collapsed

He said: “On around the 20th floor we met the first firefighters. These guys have got all the equipment on them and all their heavy jackets and helmets.

“They looked shattered already and they had no idea what they were walking into.

“We were asking them if they knew what had happened and they just said, ‘all we know is there’s a big fire and we need to put it out’.”

When Paul reached the bottom of the 110-storey building, he was led by the first responders into the plaza and was immediately faced with the trauma and devastation caused by the attack.

Paul said: “Every few seconds you’d hear a thump and then another thump and this was people jumping.

“What we were hearing and seeing was the people falling and then the bodies hit the ground.

“At some point in all this, it became apparent that the other tower had been hit.

“I’m walking away now and it’s just pandemonium. There are people screaming, shouting, sirens everywhere – it was just incredible.”

Moments after leaving the North Tower, the South Tower of the World Trade Center began to collapse.

Paul said thousands of people turned and ran and he began to contemplate that there might no escape.

He said: “It was just mass running. I honestly thought there was no way I was going to get out. It felt like the end.

“It was just such a huge building, and I could see it tilting out as it was coming down and I thought it was going to land right on top of me because I’m nowhere near far enough to be safe.

“I went down into one of the subway stations and then I could just hear everything raining down. All the ash and dust started pouring down into the subway.

“All of the stations interconnect and I managed to walk back out around to where Brooklyn Bridge is.

“Everything was just grey. People, vehicles, everything was just covered in ash. I managed to save myself from the toxic gas cloud that people still suffer the side effects from to this day.

“It was like a scene from after a nuclear bomb had dropped.”

With no clear idea of what to do, Paul returned to his apartment and was lucky enough to have his phone call connected to his mother Brenda, who was waiting on news from her home in Sunny Close, Goring.

He packed up a few of his belongings and left his apartment, still reeling from the horrors he had seen and faced with the uncertainly of what the next few hours, days and weeks could bring.

Paul said: “My apartment was in the inner exclusion zone, and I wasn’t allowed back for around two weeks. You go back in small groups to grab personal things, but I was living in a hotel.

“My apartment was at the back of the building, and I could look down into Ground Zero. I used to be able to see all the smouldering and the burning that happened for days and weeks after.

“I could see the recovery action so there was no real escaping it. They used to stop working when they’d bring a body out. They would slowly walk out with it on a stretcher and then a few moments later you would see it on the TV.

“It took months and months before there was any sense of normality there.”

Paul moved to New York in 1999 and regularly returned to the UK to visit his family and friends in Brighton and to watch his beloved Albion.

He says that while the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attack does hold some poignancy, its personal and historical significance is prevalent every single day.

He said: “People do have a deep sense of awareness about it, but they can’t comprehend the enormity of it all and the after effects.

“The way of coping is to have a form of detachment from it, but I think it’s important to remember what’s happened and the people who lost their lives going in to try and help others and their sacrifices.”

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