9/11 survivor in Auburn gives free meals to first responders for the 15th year

9/11 survivor in Auburn gives free meals to first responders for the 15th year
9/11 survivor in Auburn gives free meals to first responders for the 15th year (Source: WTVM)

AUBURN, Ala. (WTVM) - An Auburn business owner, who was in the North World Trade Center tower on 9/11, has been giving free meals to first responders on this anniversary for 15 years now.

Sunel Merchant said the only reason he’s alive today is because of the first responders, who he calls superheroes.

9/11 is a day Merchant will never forget.

“Even today, I take depression pills," he said. "Even today I get nightmares.”

That day, like many days before, he was working on the 49th floor of the North World Trade Center.

“We felt the impact," Merchant said. "The whole floor moved as if I was on a walking escalator.”

He and his co-workers started heading downstairs, somewhat casually at first, then quicker and more panicked after feeling the impact of the second plane flying into the south tower.

Fear was taking hold, but then hope came marching bravely up the stairs.

“I saw the first firefighter coming up,” Merchant said. “His words were like the words of [an]angel. He was like, ‘Don’t worry. We got you. Everything is good on the bottom. We’re going to take care of the problem.’”

He credits this firefighter, and all the other first responders for saving his life. To him, they're superheroes.

“When I was coming down the building, the firefighters were going up the building,” he said. “When I was running away from the building, the police were running toward the building. And when I was sitting afraid, our armed forces were getting ready to take the battle to the enemy.”

And now, every year for the past 15 - since he moved to Auburn - Merchant gives these superheroes free meals on Sept. 11 at his restaurant, Philly Connection.

“I think it does give you a pat on the back beyond just, 'I need you," said Matt Jordan, the deputy fire chief of the Auburn Fire Department.. "It shows appreciation, and it’s a great gift for us.”

He said it’s the least he can do.

“It’s a small gesture of thank you for the wonderful, wonderful work the superheroes do,” Merchant said.

Merchant urges everyone not just today, but every day, to tell these superheroes, “Thank you.”

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