Carlos Roberson was at his network engineering job at Thompson Reuters on Fulton Street in the Financial District, down the block from the World Trade Center, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 when the earth shook.
“One minute after it hit, my manager came out told me I have to go help,” said Roberson, a certified volunteer EMT and instructor. “We thought it might’ve been a small plane, but then you see the gapping hole in the building and you knew it was bigger.”
At first, a police officer was trying to direct the Forest Hills resident away from Church Street. Roberson told him he was an EMT, the officer shouted, “Go, go, go!”
Roberson, 38 at that time, raced to Church Street where he began assisting police directing fleeing people away from the World Trade Center. Debris was hitting the ground like bullets from the north tower. Window panes were fluttering in the air, he recalled, one pane smashed into the plaza as people ran from the building.
But then, people were jumping out of broken windows in desperation above the huge fire the plane caused when it crashed through the tower.
There were no injuries on the street initially, so Roberson said he just kept trying to direct people away from the buildings.
“I started hearing yelling and I went to it. A whole bunch people were rushing out and I’m looking and it was the first time in my life I didn’t know what to do,” said Roberson, an EMT instructor who learned life-saving skills after contracting meningitis as a teen, and becoming inspired by the ambulance crew who he said helped save his life.
But while he tried to help others, he started hearing the sound of people jumping and hitting the ground. “It sounded like bombs hitting the plaza,” Roberson recalled.
“As they are jumping, I needed to step away – my heart was breaking and I don’t know what to do with myself,” he added. “Then I see two firefighters with a stair chair – young guys with a large woman and the chair is not locking, so I helped them with the chair and then to an ambulance.”
Like a lot of the rescuers that day, he tried to block out the horror. Then the south tower was struck, most of the debris shooting out towards West Street.
Roberson continued evacuation directions until he saw PAPD Police Officer Christoper Amoroso helping a woman now identified as Suman Dhamija, a trainee at Morgan Stanley Bank, who was suffering from asthma. Roberson said Amoroso was suffering from burns, possibly from trying to enter one of the fire floors in the north tower.
“That’s when I saw Chris come out of the building near the Borders Book Store and he was struggling to help the woman having trouble breathing,” Roberson said. “I said I would get her to a medic and I said to him to come with me. I said ‘you are hurt,’ and I thought he should get medical assistance. But he said, ‘I’m going back in.’ This took all of seconds of time – I gotta take her over and was on autopilot now to get her to an ambulance. He just ran back in – the bravest man I’ve ever met.”
Roberson said it was difficult for the woman to walk, so he held her hand and brought her to an ambulance across from the tower.
“I told the crew she might be suffering a cardiac condition and she should be taken to a hospital now,” said Roberson, who then wanted to go find Amoroso to convince him to get treatment for burns to his face.
But then the unthinkable happened.
“I heard a loud noise and looked up and it (the north tower) looked like the top came off a Rubik’s cube – it twisted and began to pancake down like an elevator coming straight down, so I ran to the fence of the church off Fulton Street,” he recalled. “I thought I was going crazy, I didn’t realize girders were crashing through the street and everything went black. I was standing on the sidewalk and I can’t believe can’t see face. I was on my knees to cover up – I couldn’t see.”
Roberson opened his eyes, his mouth filled with dust. He waited for the dust to settle.
“I was in survival mode and something then hit my arm – I couldn’t breathe at first, and then I thought maybe my arm was gone and I almost knocked myself out with my arm to see if it was still there,” said Roberson, who then ran to his office lobby on Fulton Street where he was able to wash off in a bathroom.
Roberson then re-emerged found very few people in the dust-filled streets lined with crushed fire trucks.
“I started thinking about all the people I had seen – where was Chris?”
Roberson went to the Post Office on Vesey Street and joined a Postal inspector he recalled by the name of Tom.
“We started knocking on doors in the building and we were finding people hiding under desks,” he said. “We tried to get out on West Broadway, but then we heard the building shaking and Tom ducked under a table, but I went to a corner where it might be more stable. The whole building shook violently. When we emerged, cars on fire, both buildings gone.”
Roberson then spent the rest of the day till the following day searching for victims and covering bodies in the street, killed by the collapse or body parts of those who jumped to their death.
“I really wanted to find Chris, but we weren’t finding anyone,” Roberson said.
He left the site at 6 a.m. the next day, exhausted and feeling more confident when he saw National Guard vehicles arriving with numerous rescue crews. “The big guns were here – I had nothing left.”
He later found out that Police Amoroso was killed.
Roberson had to deal with post-traumatic stress afterward and was treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital. He never returned to what was then dubbed “ground zero.”
Since then, Roberson has worked as a volunteer at the Tribute Center on Greenwich Street, assisting with tours and telling the stories of the thousands who were killed on 9/11. He has also viewed names on the Memorial. He was an EMT instructor for two PAPD police officers Robert Cirri Sr. and David Prudencio Lemagne, their names engraved with Amoroso.
He has something else left to do in life, he says – he finds solace in Bible scripture in which Paul is told by God to go to Judah on 9/10. He says he and Paul both had their 9/11.