Although thousands of unfortunate souls perished in Tuesday's fiery attack on New York's twin World Trade Center towers, Lodi's Corey Daniel was among the fortunate - escaping the blazing structure unhurt just minutes before it collapsed into a pile of smoldering rubble.
"I feel very blessed to be alive," Daniel said Tuesday afternoon in a telephone interview from Manhattan's posh Surrey Hotel, located only a few minutes by cab from the site of the attack.
Daniel, 31, makes his home in the Woodlake subdivision with his wife, Kim, and the couple's two children, Nicole, 4 and Reagan, 2. Kim Daniel, a lifelong Lodian and graduate of Lodi High School, is currently six months pregnant with the couple's third child.
Corey Daniel was recently hired as an investment counselor for Morgan Stanley. He was in the final phase of his training Tuesday morning, having arrived in New York on Sunday for what should have been his final three weeks.
After sitting through the first part of his morning session Tuesday, Daniel and others took a break.
He entered the men's room on the building's 61st floor, unaware that a hijacked airliner had already smashed into the building's adjacent twin tower only minutes before.
When he emerged, he saw a panicked crowd dashing for the emergency exits, accompanied by announcements that the building was being evacuated.
"At first," Daniel said, "I thought it was a fire."
Finding the elevators to be out of service, Daniel bolted for the stairway, where he rushed frantically to reach the ground floor.
"At first," he remembers, "Things were pretty orderly." But about the time Daniel reached the 35th floor, he felt a series of powerful shocks he likened to a violent earthquake.
"At that point, I thought a bomb had gone off below me," he said. "After that, people started to panic. I just went into survival mode at that point."
Daniel said the idea that he might not make it never occurred to him, as his thoughts, efforts and energies focused on just one thing - getting out alive.
Once he reached the ground floor, Daniel says he was relieved to find that the building's security staff had already opened all exits and had clearly marked escape routes for frenzied evacuees before they even reached the ground floor.
Once he hit the street, Daniel took to his heels - never looking back until he was a good six blocks away from the carnage.
He stopped to try to call his wife, Kim, in Lodi to let her know he was all right, but had difficulty finding a pay phone that was working.
As he waited in line for the third time to use a phone, Daniel said he heard a thunderous roar before a massive plume of smoke began to rise; the burning building had collapsed, trapping people in its deadly ruins.
"Before that, I thought the worst was over already," said Daniel, who again took off running - this time not stopping until he'd reached the banks of the Hudson.
Meanwhile, his wife had been watching the horrifying chain of events unfold on television, not knowing if her husband was still among the living.
"I started making arrangements to get the kids out of the house," said Kim Daniel, "In case what I feared had happened was actually true."
Then, the phone rang. It was her husband.
"I don't really remember what we said at first," she said. "We were both kind of in a state of shock, I think."
On his way back to his hotel, Daniel said he passed a church, where he stopped to pray and take communion. Once back in his room, Daniel was able to reach his wife on the phone again, to give a more complete account of the incredible events which had taken place that morning.
"I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world," Kim Daniel said Tuesday afternoon. "But I'm also praying for all of the families who weren't so lucky."
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