By JASON LAUGHLIN
Bill Mancinelli won't be caught unprepared again.
He considers himself lucky that he escaped barefoot but unscathed from the World Trade Center hotel Sept. 11. He doesn't want to rely on luck again.
He has ordered two books about the Taliban and Afghanistan. He reads just about everything he can find online about the attacks and has trouble turning the TV news off. He and his wife, Sue, have even started talking about stocking their car with dry goods, flashlights and gallons of bottled water.
"I'm going to watch very closely for any signs of escalation and anything that could threaten myself and my family," said the 45-year-old software consultant and father of three. "When something affects me personally, I have to try to understand. I have this need to understand who my enemy is."
Mancinelli recognizes he sounds like one of the Y2K doomsday prophets he mocked as America slipped peacefully into the new millennium. But he said witnessing the enormous tragedy of the World Trade Center attacks and almost becoming one of the victims has changed his perspective.
"You don't want to be in a situation of getting away at a moment's notice as I did last week," he said.
From his spacious home in Shamong last week, Mancinelli recounted his terrifying flight from the 22-story Marriott Hotel at 3 World Trade Center, which stood next to the twin office towers. The hotel, known as Marriott World Trade Center, was destroyed when the towers collapsed.
Mancinelli was shaving in his 17th-floor room when he heard jet engines. He immediately thought they sounded too close.
Then the first plane hit, tearing into the north tower, 1 World Trade Center.
Glasses shattered in his room. Pulling aside the drapes, he saw fiery debris raining down from the top of the tower. Down below, he saw people scattering from the building. He and his business partner did not wait another second; they ran for the stairs.
"I knew this was so bad I didn't even bother to throw my shoes on," he said.
The World Trade Center had been Mancinelli's home away from home for six months while he worked on a project for J. P. Morgan Chase & Co. He would arrive there every Sunday or Monday morning and spend the week.
"I used to say, `I'm m working in the financial center in New York,'" Mancinelli said. "It just doesn't get any better than this."
Mancinelli ran out of his hotel wearing only gym shorts. His eyes scanned the ground, trying to sidestep glass. He and his friend found three others from their company; one lent him an undershirt.
About 70 to 100 yards from the building, Mancinelli turned and looked up. Smoke and flames engulfed the top of the north tower.
"I was just totally taken aback," he said.
But something told him to keep moving.
"I got this very intuitive feeling and I turned to my co- workers and said, `You know what, let's not stand here.'"
The group took 10 steps and saw another airliner flying too low and too fast over the Hudson River. As they watched, it smashed into the south tower, 2 World Trade Center.
"It just dissolved into the building," he said. "At that point we looked at each other and we knew, I think we all knew, this was a terrorist attack."
In the first second, Mancinelli recalled thinking the explosion didn't sound like he thought it would. It was deep and rumbling. A feeling of unreality encompassed him, and he thought of the effects he'd seen in disaster movies. Someone nearby looked up at the burning buildings and screamed.
"Oh my God, someone is jumping!"
Then they ran.
Mancinelli's co-workers got on a water taxi, but he decided to walk to Brooklyn. As he trudged along, he heard a low rumbling.
"Bombs are going off!" someone in the crowd screamed.
He looked back. A cloud of dust and ash billowed down the city street toward him. He ran.
"That was the first time in my life when the only thing I could think about was that I needed to survive this and keep living," he said.
He ran for the Manhattan Bridge, and as he slowed his pace, he got a clear look at the still-standing north tower. It toppled as he watched.
Mancinelli eventually made it to a Marriott in Brooklyn, where he spent the night. He had no wallet. He paid for train fare to Newark with $10 a woman in the hotel lobby lent him.
In the days since, Mancinelli has found the world a more threatening place. Loud noises make him jump. He can't avoid looking up when he hears an airplane. And he doubts he'll ever sleep in a high-rise hotel again.
His wife can't stop thinking about how she would have supported her children alone. Mancinelli plans to keep his job, but swears he'll never travel without an emergency bag with clothes and cash.
Mancinelli has one keepsake from his ordeal. In Brooklyn he ran into a Chase bank to call his family and let them know he was alive. A security guard gave him a pair of beat- up black tennis shoes. They were a fine replacement for the $150 shoes he left in his hotel. Mancinelli said he'll never throw the size 11 shoes away, though he wears size eight.
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