'Everyone was just so happy to be alive'

Steamboat residents' vacation to New York proves more than what they bargained for

— As the nation huddled around televisions to watch the final moments of the north and south towers of the burning World Trade Center, Steamboat locals Stephen Evans and Jeannie Berger watched from the streets of Manhattan, just blocks away at the Empire State Building.

"Then all of a sudden, the world changed," Evans said.

In the wake of the disaster, the couple was walking in Manhattan's Central Park, on Thursday afternoon, recalling their experience over a cell phone.

"It was all pretty overwhelming," Berger said. "Like watching a movie...You look at it and it just seems surreal."

Berger and Evans decided to vacation to Manhattan at the spur of the moment, arriving on Saturday evening. Since both had never been to the city with the most recognizable skyline in the world, they were eager to take in the sites.

One site on their list was the World Trade Center. Luckily, Berger and Evans scheduled their trip to the towers on Monday, one day before terrorists executed the most heinous attack ever made on American soil in the same spot.

Berger and Evans traveled to the 107th floor of the south tower, on Monday the building that suffered the second plane attack Tuesday.

While in the building, a helicopter caught the eye of Berger. It was hovering, she thought, "dangerously close" and she remembered commenting prophetically: "He could run right into the building."

Looking back, Berger said she remembers the thousands of people they saw that day at the World Trade Center the employees in the offices and the children walking to school near buildings.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, Evans and Berger were standing in line at the Empire State Building, waiting to get to the observation deck.

Unbeknownst to them, the north tower was hit by the first attack. Twenty minutes later, while still waiting in line, the south tower was hit. Not long afterwards, Evans and Berger found out what was happening.

"People came down (from the building), running frantically, saying that a plane hit the World Trade Center," Evans said. "We thought we best get out of there."

They rushed out of the building and into the streets to see the burning towers.

"Everyone was walking in the street in an absolute daze," Evans recalled. "We were a little bit concerned that it could happen again."

After snapping a couple pictures, they returned to their hotel, about a few miles north of the World Trade Center. With the rest of the country, Berger and Evans watched the two towers collapse on television.

A little later, the couple decided to walk to the Hudson River and get as close to the disaster site as authorities would let them. Evans and Berger spent most the rest of the day there, near television crews from Japan and Australia, watching people exit the disaster area, covered with white dust.

Evans said it was difficult to describe the looks on their faces maybe disbelief or shock.

"Everyone was just so happy to be alive," he said.

Those people also were telling stories.

Before nightfall, Evans and Berger watched the third building in the complex fall.

"I've never seen anything like that in my life," Berger said.

Incredibly, Evans said one of the more secure moments that he has felt in Manhattan was when fighter jet planes began flying tight patterns around the island.

"Just knowing that they were up there and that they were ours," he said.

Evans and Berger have plane tickets bound for Colorado on Sunday and hope they will be able to make the flight.

"We will be glad to come home," Evans said. "Steamboat will never look better."

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@steamboatpilot.com.

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