Mark Popolano, AIG's CIO, was in a meeting at his office at 160 Water St. on the 22nd floor when the first plane struck the World Trade Center (WTC). Superintendents evacuated the building, and most people started drifting uptown, Popolano recalls. However, he attempted to go to AIG's headquarters at 70 Pine St., a few blocks south, to confer with senior staff. At that point, he says, "no one expected the two buildings to go down."
Two WTC did come down while Popolano was en route, however, and he was caught in the massive cloud of dust and ash. "I got disoriented," he says, and actually walked in a different direction, toward the south waterfront. "Some young gentleman grabbed me and got me to that side."
As the two went along they began to grab others who were equally disoriented, some in need of help. Popolano recalls helping a bleeding woman and taking her to some EMS workers. The scene, he says, was "surreal. Nobody was in panic or rushing."
Deciding that his best move was to walk to Bensonhurst, in Brooklyn, where his mother lives, Popolano made his way north to the Manhattan Bridge. "It was the most amazing thing: No one talked, everybody just walked silently."
On the Brooklyn side of the East River, Popolano and some others entered a small church. "It looked like a scene from H.G. Wells' 'War of the Worlds.' We were all covered in white dust and everybody just sat there silently, except for a few people sobbing," he says. "Then it finally hit you what you'd just been through."
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio