Cover Smoke rises over the New York Skyline from the scene of the World Trade Center Attack, as seen from a tugboat evacuating people from Manhattan to New Jersey. (Photo by Hiro Oshima/WireImage)

For many people, the harrowing events that transpired on September 11, 2001 is nothing more but a dark past and an utterly horrifying story. But for its victims and the witnesses who feared for their own lives, the tragedy has become a nightmare on loop.

Just like any other day, New York was brimming with energy—people were on their way to work, the cabs piled up in bumper to bumper traffic, and the sun generously offered its warm beams on cobblestone lofts. Nobody knew the terrors that await the majestic skyscrapers of the city. For everyone around the area, September 11, 2001 was just an ordinary Tuesday.

Just before noontime, nineteen men trained by the militant Islamist group Al-Qaeda carried out coordinated terrorist attacks against the United States. They seized four passenger planes flying over eastern America with the intention of crashing them into the country's major landmarks.

Two of the hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York; the first aircraft hit the North Tower at 8:46 am, while the second crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 am.

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The impact caused a huge fire, trapping people on the upper floors, and leaving the whole city in smoke. In less than two hours, both 110-storey buildings collapsed. New York's pride was no more. At 9:37 am, the third plane destroyed the western part of the Pentagon, US' military headquarters in Washington DC.

People in the fourth plane also suffered at the hands of Al-Qaeda members, the aircraft crashed in a Pennsylvania field, leaving all 44 people onboard killed. Up to this day, it is thought that the hijackers originally planned to attack the Capitol Building but failed when the passengers fought back.

The event rattled innocent onlookers such as the forty-three-year-old fashion stylist PJ Pascual. In 2000, he moved to New York to pursue a degree at the Fashion Institute and Technology. He lived with his aunt in Queens, a place that is only a drive away from where the attacks took place.

In an interview with Tatler Philippines, Pascual recalled the city's tragic fate. "On the day of the attacks, I remember running for my morning class. When I got off the subway stop on 23rd street and 8th Avenue, I noticed a massive crowd looking down south. . . and that's where I saw it. . . the first tower was covered in flames," he said. 

"I heard the sirens rushing down to Wall Street. It was magnified 1000 times. When I arrived at school, everyone was watching the news. The second tower was hit and in what felt like a matter of minutes, both of the skyscrapers collapsed. The school cancelled our classes," he added.

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Pascual remembered trying and failing to process everything that was happening in his surroundings: the loud sirens, the crumbling towers, and the ash shrouding lower Manhattan. "As soon as the classes were suspended, I left and walked up north. I bumped into my classmate Khiem Truong and both of us walked together. All the subways were shut down, our legs were tired but we had to keep walking," he recalled. "Khiem and I parted ways on 59th and 5th Avenue, I was alone and I had to think fast. I did not know where to go exactly."

The young Pascual temporarily sought refuge in the house of his friend Karla Aabo who lived on 78th street. Still in shock, he remembered calling his loved ones in the Philippines. "I walked to her place and rang the doorbell. Thank God she was home. I temporarily stayed with her. The first person I called was my mother but I couldn’t get through. The signals were jammed. I tried calling my sisters, but I also had no luck."

It was not until four days after the attacks when his family from the Philippines reached him. "My mother and my sisters tried calling me, but no luck. On the 4th day after the attack, I was able to speak to my family. They were so worried. I kept on crying because I could really feel the magnitude of the city."

We did not go out. We were just scared that anytime, a bomb would just go off on the streets.
PJ Pascual

Shrouded in fear, Pascual and his friend Karla stayed in the latter's apartment for two days. "We did not go out. We were just scared that anytime, a bomb would just go off on the streets. Karla and I remained glued to the television screen, waiting for updates. I kept on crying the whole day; I felt the pain and sorrow of all the victims. It was so painful."

The event led to the untimely demise of 2,977 people (not counting the 19 hijackers). All the 246 passengers and crew aboard four planes were killed, the 2,606 people inside the Twin Towers died, and at the Pentagon, 125 civilians also perished. The youngest victim was two-year-old toddler Christine Lee Hanson who died in her parent's arms inside the plane.

The deliberate acts of murder have transpired two decades ago, but many of its victims and witnesses like Pascual still find themselves floating amid the sea of terror.

"The terror attacks in New York were traumatic, I could not believe that the US was penetrated by terrorists," Pascual disclosed. "It took a while for the trauma to leave my system. I had to live one day at a time, in fact, this interview reminded me of the incident. . . the catastrophic fate that I saw with my own eyes."

To know more about the historical event and donate, visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website here.