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“I thank God every day that I’m still here living”: Local 9/11 survivor shares his story

Birmingham man recalls being inside north tower on 9/11
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 10:34 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) -As we come up on the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, one survivor who now lives in Birmingham is sharing how he made it out alive and what he wants future generations to remember about that terrible day.

“I had been there working in the building for six and a half years every day,” said 75-year-old Lewis Sanders.

But that day, September 11th, 2001, would be his last inside the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Lewis Sanders was 55 years old then.

He was a husband, a father of two, and an Air Force veteran with a very important job: he installed the fire alarm systems at the Twin Towers.

“We were installing the new system in the whole complex,” Sanders said. “We never got it finished.”

That morning he got in early, like he always did.

His office was on the 81st floor.

“I sit at my desk,” he remembered. “Open up my sandwich and started to eat. And boom. That’s when it happened. That’s when the plane hit.”

He said he saw fire and debris come down in front of him.

“I go over to the window, and I look down to see what it was, and it was just debris,” Sanders said.

The staircase closest to him quickly filled up with smoke.

He managed to find another stairway and stopped on floors on his way down to make sure people got out.

That’s when the second plane hit.

“One of the workers there in the building yelled out that it was a terrorist attack, when the second plane,” said Sanders. “We couldn’t hear it. We were inside of the staircase. We couldn’t hear it.”

One hour and five minutes later, he made it out with his colleague Johnny.

“We were standing on the corner, and looking back at the building, and seeing that the building was on fire,” Sanders remembered. “And I said, ‘Johnny, man, we’re going to have a lot of work to do when we get back in there.’ Never thinking that they were going to collapse.”

Sanders was a couple blocks away from the Twin Towers now.

Then he heard a crash.

It was the second tower collapsing.

“A cloud of smoke came up. And me and my partner, we all started running. And we ran up the ramp to the bridge and we started across the bridge,” said Sanders.

When he got to Brooklyn, he watched as the North Tower fell.

Almost 3,000 people were killed that day.

Sanders said he still struggles with survivor’s guilt.

“All of those people died. Why in the world did I not die? And it took me a while to get beyond that,” he said. “And it’s still kind of hard when I really think about it, you know.”

It took therapy and time for Sanders to now be able to talk about that day.

And every September 11th, he makes a call to Johnny, his friend who made it out with him.

“I always call him up just to say, ‘I love you man,’” said Sanders. “Every year.”

And now, 20 years later, Sanders is retired, a grandfather to five, and living back in Birmingham.

He said he’ll never forget how the country came together that day, grieving and supporting each other through the weeks, months, and years after.

Sanders said, “I thank God every day that I’m still here living.”

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