It was a meeting members of the National Association of Business Economics would like to forget if only they could.

About 250 of the country's prominent economists were gathered Tuesday morning at the New York Marriott World Trade Center hotel, wedged between the two towers of the World Trade Center, when the chandeliers began to sway. Then there was a loud explosion.

"The room was just up in arms," said Carl Tannenbaum, who was attending the meeting in his role as chief economist for Chicago's LaSalle National Bank. "Everybody ran out in the hallway, and we were directed out into the street, which was already filled with debris."

The economists, who included Bank One's Diane Swonk and Harris Bank's Tim O'Neill, were relatively calm as they walked away from the hotel until they got two blocks away and saw the second jetliner crash into the World Trade Center. For a few seconds, they watched in horror as people fell from the upper reaches of the building. "Then we ran in terror to Battery Park," Tannenbaum said.

After 40 minutes of huddling in the park wondering what to do, the conference refugees saw the second tower collapse under its own weight, showering them in a blizzardlike storm of silt and dust.

In the confusion, someone found a policeman who suggested they leave the Wall Street area for Midtown by walking up FDR Drive, usually a busy thoroughfare that had been closed to traffic.

Tannenbaum, Swonk and O'Neill made it to safety a few hours later and were amazed at how people in the New York offices of their banks reached out to help.

"If there's a silver lining, that's it. People have been calling with names of people who are happy to take us in," Tannenbaum said. "Nobody walked away with a suitcase. My bag was in storage, and I'm not counting on seeing it again."

Although he would like nothing better than to be back home in Chicago, Tannenbaum knew that wasn't going to happen for at least a day and maybe several. But after his close call, he wasn't about to complain about having a ruined suit and no toothbrush.

"I'm here, and that's better than some," he said.