The true horror has human face -- those left behind
By ANDREW WILLIS, The Globe and Mail
They do things big in New York.
People may joke about Manhattan's Masters of the Universe, but there was a real electricity in the World Trade Center and skyscrapers that surrounded the complex.
Climbing out of an elevator, you were greeted with floor after floor of open-concept offices filled with vast seas of, say, Cantor Fitzgerald bond traders or Morgan Stanley Dean Witter stock brokers. The people working phones or hammering away at computers on these desks kissed loved ones goodbye before dawn yesterday morning -- the kids were likely still asleep -- and caught trains from the suburbs in order to be at their desks for morning meetings that kicked off about 7:30.
Perched high in the World Trade Center, at the core of the Big Apple, these folks really did work on the deals and trades that shape the financial world.
Yesterday, all thoughts of big deals and big dealers went out the windows, as two airplanes came crashing in. In an instant, residents of Manhattan's concrete canyons turned their attention from big commerce to big disaster, in the form of an unprecedented act of terrorism. On Wall Street and the local financial community that's intimately linked to New York, people were more important than business yesterday.
The Toronto Stock Exchange opened briefly, a gesture of misplaced defiance to terrorism that was greeted with shock by senior employees at most brokerage houses. The TSE wisely shut down trading as the full extent of the U.S. carnage became apparent.
Work ground to a halt at every North American dealer as employees either headed for the exits, or gathered to watch the two 110-storey towers crumble on live television, and a wing of Washington's Pentagon go up in smoke. The very fact that Manhattan, the World Trade Center and surrounding neighbourhoods loomed so large in global commerce meant nearly everyone in financial circles knew someone who worked in the buildings.
Then the frantic phone calls started. Where are our staff, our friends, our families? It was the only issue that mattered yesterday.
"Our first priority today was our people; any business issue was secondary," said TD Securities chief executive officer Donald Wright of his decision to ask staff to go home.
Over at Royal Bank of Canada, CEO Gordon Nixon fired off a note to employees around the globe "to share my deep sense of grief and outrage with respect to the senseless acts of violence," then explained that 400 bank employees in downtown New York seemed to be fine, and all U.S. operations were closing.
TD Waterhouse quickly found out that its 16 employees at a World Trade Center office were evacuated, as were a handful of Scotia Capital staff. Morgan Stanley reported that 3,500 employees in the complex got clear before the walls caved in. CIBC World Markets' vast operation just across the street from the collapsing buildings was also safely abandoned.
As they moved out, vast crowds faced a rain of burnt paper, broken glass and dust. Some witnessed people falling to their deaths from the upper floors of the two World Trade Center's towers.
Most local and New York investment banks house their staff in midtown Manhattan. These employees were told to stay put, to let crowds on the street clear out, before trying to make their way home. Many slept in offices last night.
Midday yesterday, British investment bankers who have been through these same grim affairs weighed in on what the World Trade Center tragedy will mean for Wall Street, and the market as a whole. Andrew Milligan, head of global strategy, Standard Life, Edinburgh, said: "Appalling as the event is, the macro impact will be limited, as the U.K. knows from the extremely sad series of IRA bombs in London."
Last night, the smoking Manhattan skyline looked like a kid missing two front teeth. But teeth grow back. Yesterday's attacks will remain a searing memory for all of us. They promise to disrupt the financial community in days and weeks to come. But New York and the financial community will bounce back, big as life.
The true horror of yesterday's events comes on a human scale, and it faces the thousands of families who had loved ones working at the World Trade Center, and who faced the awful prospect last night of a family member never catching the train home again.