I visited the World Trade Center July 13 of this year, during a marketing event held at the New York Board of Trade. I still have the photo ID they gave me as a visitor and a hotel receipt from the Marriott Hotel at 3 World Trade Center.
I also have my mental image of the broad WTC plaza, the incredible rush of humanity endlessly pushing through wide basement corridors and the gleaming Twin Towers, so tall they seemed to bend space.
As you know, this memory now bears no resemblance to what was left after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. No matter what the camera angle, I can't even make out the path I walked from the Marriott to the NYBOT that morning. It is devastated, changed forever.
I remember that the NYBOT was on the eighth floor of 4 World Trade Center, less that 100 yards from Ground Zero. The building suffered little damage from the airplane attack itself, but appears to have received extensive damage as both of the Twin Towers, plus another 40-plus story building, collapsed around it.
We are still scouring over reports from the NYBOT Website and national news gathering agencies for information about the exchange and the people who work there.
First things first. Reports from NYBOT, which trades in several commodities including cotton, indicate that all its employees were safely evacuated from the building. At the time of this writing, however, none of the NYBOT staffers we e-mailed had responded. We had assumed they could access their computers from their homes, but realize they could have still been stranded on the island. We don't know.
Pat McClatchy, with Rosenthal-Collins in Memphis, did speak with a NYBOT phone clerk who worked in the building. The clerk had just gotten off the subway and was walking toward the WTC complex when the first plane hit Tower 1. The clerk was still standing there when the second plane hit the second tower minutes later. He immediately left the area and returned home.
NYBOT is less certain about the fates of several clearing members. Clearing members, who are essential for the completion of a trade, and therefore the integrity of the exchange, were in the area of the attack and their situations at this time are not known.
NYBOT Chairman Charles H. Falk said the exchange was significantly damaged in Tuesday's attacks and he was not sure if it could be restored. "You can see (television coverage) of it. It's probably history. God knows how long it will take to restore it."
NYBOT does have a back-up facility in Long Island, New Jersey, but it's not reasonable to trade more than two commodities at a time, according to Falk. "We will have to go to split sessions and stagger the openings with trading going from 7:30 a.m. (EST) to 7:00 p.m., said Falk, who was stuck in a hotel room unable to get home.
The backup facility was to have begun trading Monday, Sept. 17, with cotton trading from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. only.
It's difficult to predict how the terrorist attack will impact the cotton markets, according to Texas A&M Extension economist Carl Anderson, who also attended the marketing function in July. "This doesn't change supply and demand. However, the event can affect the attitude of the major stock market which can affect the commodity markets. You have a little over-lapping with commodity markets because you have the big pool funds that trade everywhere.
"I'm concerned that this might affect our economy," Anderson added. "We may find that our consumers take a new attitude about spending."
If consumers suddenly started spending less, including clothing, "That would mean an adjustment on the demand side for textiles. That could impact us in a negative way."
Anderson also related this story of Oral Capps, a consumer economic specialist at Texas A&M and a friend of Anderson's.
At 8:48 a.m., Sept. 11, Capps was in a business meeting in a restaurant on the first floor of Tower 1 in the World Trade Center complex. He didn't hear an explosion, but when the chandelier above him began to shake, he was reminded of the earthquake he experienced in San Francisco eight years ago.
Alarmed, Capps immediately called his wife, Debbie, in their Marriott hotel room on the 16th floor of 3 World Trade Center and told her to come downstairs with all possible haste. They met in the stairwell on the third floor, left the building and all their luggage, hoping to find a way across the river into New Jersey.
Capps looked back in time to see a second airplane plow into another tower and he knew at that point, they were under a terrorist attack.
As they ran, they twice felt the ground underneath them rumble and knew that each of the towers had fallen. Along the way, they stopped to comfort children in a nursery school and encountered mostly calm and cooperative people, including a woman who invited them into her apartment and treated them to tea.
They boarded a tugboat (no easy task in itself) and hitched a ride across the river to New Jersey, took a bus to Newark, an Amtrak train to Washington D.C. and arrived, without a scratch, at 8 p.m. at a hotel where they had already made reservations for another leg of their trip (although they intended to fly there).
At the time of this writing, (Sept. 12) they were still waiting to return home. Their plan, according to Anderson, is to stay in College Station for a very long time.