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Poland native recalls shock



Published: Sat, September 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Navy commander expects to be back at work in the Pentagon on Monday.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

POLAND -- Catherine Simpson hustled down five flights of stairs, ran two miles, jumped in her car and sped into traffic.

"I was just in a state of shock," Simpson said.

That's when she started shaking and crying.

Simpson, 39, a commander in the Navy and a Poland native, works as one of four assistant secretaries for the Navy.

She was in her office on the fifth floor of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday when terrorists rammed an airplane into the building. More than 120 people remain unaccounted for in the Pentagon attack.

Learned about New York: About five minutes before the attack, Simpson and her co-workers learned that terrorists crashed two airplanes into the World Trade Center.

"We were at our desks working, business as usual," she said. "I guess the thought crossed our mind" that a similar attack could happen at the Pentagon.

Simpson said that when the plane crashed into the Pentagon, she was "close enough where we could feel the building shake and smell the smoke."

"Everyone was screaming 'Evacuate! Evacuate! Evacuate!'" she said. "I think it was just more of a feeling of shock, panic and not knowing how to react to such a situation."

Simpson had to run down five flights of stairs to get out of the building. She said she was so shocked by the attack that she was oblivious to the injured people on the stairs.

Once outside, Simpson could see the damage done by the terrorists' attack.

"We could just see the pillars of black smoke and smell it," she said. "We were told to leave, to leave immediately."

Simpson, however, couldn't leave right away. First, she had to run to her car, which was in a parking lot two miles away from the Pentagon.

Emotions set in: Simpson was then able to drive away from the Pentagon and the shock of the attack. That's when her emotions took over.

"I got into traffic and started shaking and crying," she said.

That night, Simpson called her father, Bill Simpson, who lives in Poland. Bill said he had been "pretty worried," as he had been trying unsuccessfully to call Catherine during the day.

Bill said that when he did get the call from his daughter, "it felt really, really good."

"Thank God she's OK," he said.

Now, she is getting ready to go back to work. She had expected to return to her desk Thursday, but the Pentagon was evacuated because of a bomb threat.

Catherine Simpson expects to be back at work Monday. She's been in the Navy for 17 years.

"They say our offices are still smoke-filled and dust-filled," she said, adding that, "there's a lot of work to be done."

hill@vindy.com




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