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One twin's escape from the Twin Towers

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That morning, as it rained ash, fire and debris all around him, Chris Cordisco sprinted as fast as he could through the streets of Manhattan.

Instinct carried him to the Hudson River as the word "terrorism" bounced around in his head. The surreal vision of a Boeing 767 banking hard in the bright sky and crashing through a massive wall of glass played on repeat.

"It was all instinct and all adrenaline," said the former Woodbine resident, a 1994 graduate of Glenelg High School, of his escape 10 years ago from the South Tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. "I knew we were under attack."

Jeff Cordisco, Chris's twin brother and roommate at the time, who was working that morning in New Jersey, remembers his own instinct as well — to find Chris.

"I had it in my mind that I was going to go into New York and look for my brother," he said.

"We were on the phone with him discouraging that, of course," said Dale Cordisco, the twins' mother, who was then a teacher at Lisbon Elementary School.

In the 10 years since the attacks of Sept. 11, Chris Cordisco, now 35, has never told his story publicly — or even to some friends — until now.

He made peace with what he saw that morning long ago, and has never felt a need to rehash the events, he said.

"But then I thought, 'People need to know,' " he said. "Maybe my story can help rekindle it and have somebody think about it in a different way."

Escaping the tower

At the time, Chris worked for AT&T's local service division in its offices on the South Tower's B6 level, six stories underground.

When the office got an evacuation call that morning, he thought it was for something minor.

"We didn't have any idea that the building (next door) had been struck," he said.

He and his co-workers climbed a stairwell that led directly from AT&T's offices to the street level, and realized it wasn't a drill as soon as the double doors to the street were opened.

"It looked like the whole street was on fire," Chris said. "There was debris raining down. A car was on fire."

Chris ran about 50 yards away from the building, where a "ghost white" young kid ran up to him "yelling and screaming" that he'd seen a plane hit the building, he said.

A woman standing nearby let out a shriek, and he followed her gaze to someone jumping out of the North Tower.

He heard a "tremendous roar," looked over his right shoulder and saw a second plane, close enough for him to read the word "United" on its side, fly directly over his head and crash into the South Tower.

"It was like you were watching a movie," he said. "The whole face of the building, it just appeared like it was mercury, and the plane just went right through it with no sound. A second or two later, it was the loudest explosion ever. It just rocked the street and people fell down."

A mass rush to escape the area began as flaming debris came smashing to the ground.

"I witnessed a guy running full speed and diving under a van to get cover," Chris said. "I just turned and ran as fast as I could."

Getting in touch

Back at Lisbon Elementary, his mother was trying to remain calm as she and other teachers escorted students from portable classrooms into the school's media center, and parents began arriving.

Although she didn't know the full extent of what was happening in New York, as there were no televisions on in the school, she began to assess her family's safety.

Her older son, Joe, and his wife, Annette, were working in New York's financial district, out of harm's way. Jeff was in New Jersey and her daughter Marnie was in Rhode Island. And Chris was underground, where he'd be OK, she told herself a bit naively, she said. But she couldn't reach him, nor could her husband, Kip.

"You mention it and I start crying to this day," she said, choking up during a recent interview. "It's something I've never gotten over."

Kip got in touch with everyone but Chris, adding to her concern.

Jeff called his and Chris's Hoboken apartment roommate, Devin Darcangelo, who played lacrosse with the twins at Syracuse University, and picked him up from work nearby to head home and plot their next move.

Getting home

As Chris approached the river, he was nervous.

"I didn't know if there were bombs in cars. …I didn't know if there were more planes or boats coming," he said.

He began to think more about his family.

"My first reaction was to get home to my apartment as fast as I could and alert my family that I was OK," he said.

He remembered ferries crossed the Hudson at the World Financial Center nearby, and sprinted off in that direction.

When he got there, he jumped on the first ferry he could. Across the river, he sprinted toward his apartment, stopping only once to poke his head into a local deli, where he saw the South Tower collapse on a small TV screen.

Reaching his apartment, he ran inside, but nobody was there. He turned on the TV, and saw the North Tower had also collapsed.

"I'd always admired the Twin Towers because I was a twin," he said. Now they were gone.

Suddenly, his phone rang. Mark Diver, a friend from Glenelg, had somehow gotten through.

Chris gave Diver his parents' and siblings' numbers, so Mark could spread the word that he was safe.

"That was a huge relief for me," he said.

About 25 minutes later, Jeff and Devin arrived.

"I saw Chris as soon as I walked into our place," Jeff said. "He was sitting on the couch, and I'll never forget the look on his face. He kind of had a little smile on his face, that he was safe."

The brothers gave each other a "big hug," they said.

"I could also tell he'd been through a lot," Jeff said.

The three roommates walked outside to Frank Sinatra Drive, which looks across the Hudson River at the Manhattan skyline.

"We were all pretty upset, still in shock," Chris said.

"We just sat there, and there were fighter jets flying around, and you could see the skyline just completely changed, the towers were both gone," Jeff said. "We didn't put it too much into perspective yet, it was just an overpowering experience."

10 years later

Amazingly, Chris returned to work the very next day in AT&T's temporary offices. It was tough to be back in the city, but he coped.

In 2004, both he and Jeff returned to Syracuse, and received MBAs in finance in 2006.

Jeff now lives in Bethesda with his wife, Jeanne, who he married in June.

Chris lives in Greensboro, N.C., with his wife Stephanie, who he married in 2008 and with whom he has a 2-year-old son, Caden, and another son due on Oct. 19.

They still visit home in Woodbine.

Although Chris didn't like to share his Sept. 11 story for years after, and still has trouble thinking of those who didn't make it out, he's recently gotten more comfortable with it, he said.

"It's tremendously important," he said. "I can't believe it's been 10 years."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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