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9/11 survivor who now lives in St. Pete opens up about his battle with anxiety, trauma

'I went to memorial after memorial after memorial'
Posted: 4:23 PM, Sep 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-11 23:26:58-04
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It was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history.

Nearly two decades after the September 11 attacks, one local survivor is sharing his story and his struggle with the guilt he carries from that day.

Anthony Mauro spoke with ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan in hopes of helping others who are battling anxiety and trauma.

Mauro now calls downtown St. Petersburg his home.

“As a backdrop day to day, how does this compare to New York?” asked Ryan.

“I like it better,” Mauro said.

But he never thought he’d leave his hometown of New York City. But then, the 9/11 attacks happened.

“I’ll always see the explosion,” Mauro said. “The mess, the panic, people running, people falling in the streets.”

Mauro, who worked construction jobs for 36 years, was working inside the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“I never came so close to death in my life,” he said.

‘Get out of the building as fast as we can’

Mauro was on the observation deck on the 107th floor, just one level below the roof. But just a couple hours in, they began to smell smoke.

“We were looking out the window and it was a black, black smoke,” Mauro said. “Worse than a thunderstorm.”

Then, a Port Authority engineer ran up the stairs.

“He said, ‘Look man, just get off the ladder and let’s get out of the building as fast as we can. There’s a plane that hit the north tower,’” Mauro recalled.

Mauro started running, but he saw the wreckage through a window.

“The whole side of the building was ripped out,” he said. “The whole top of the building was ripped out with flames pouring out and it was actually bent.”

The engineer told Mauro they needed to leave the building as soon as possible.

“He says, ‘let’s go. Let’s not waste another minute. We’ve got to get out of here,’” he said.

Mauro said he and the engineer got into the stairwell and started running. His key wouldn’t work in the passenger elevator lobbies, so they kept running down the stairs.

They ran down five flights until the engineer’s key finally worked on the 102nd floor. From there, they took the elevator to the 78th floor to switch to an express elevator.

“When we got to 78, it was wall-to-wall people, just hanging out nonchalantly," said Mauro. "I’m yelling across the whole floor, ‘no, it’s not a small plane! The building is destroyed."

He said even his coworkers didn't want to listen.

“My partner wanted to go back upstairs because he didn’t want to lose a day’s pay,” Mauro said.

When Mauro made it down to the street, he looked up.

“You couldn’t help but looking up at it,” he said. “As I’m looking up, here comes the second one.”

That’s when Mauro and everyone around them began running for their lives.

“We were so scared, we just got into the subway,” he said.

He took the train home to Brooklyn and couldn’t sleep for days.

‘I thought you were gone’

After days of no cell phone service, Mauro’s home phone rang.

It was his boss.

“He got in touch with me and he says, ‘I thought you were gone,’” Mauro said.

“How many friends did you lose on that day?” ABC Action News Anchor Wendy Ryan asked him.

“Oh dozens,” Mauro said. “Dozens of people I knew, I worked for years with. I went to memorial after memorial after memorial… very sad.

Aftermath

Eventually, Mauro had to go back to work.

He accepted a job at the Millennium Hotel right across the street from the World Trade Center.

“We were looking right down into Ground Zero. We were watching the fire department pull out body parts on stretchers… I was crying. I felt bad for the families.

But 9/11 wasn’t the only day Mauro escaped death.

Back in February 1993, a truck-bomb detonated inside the World Trade Center garage near where Mauro normally worked.

“When it blew up, our paint shop was on the other side of the wall. It blew up out of the whole side of the wall and it killed two painters working in the parking lot there,” he said.

But as luck would have it, Mauro was not working that day. He said he was sick with bronchitis.

“I just can’t believe I’m here talking to you,” Mauro said of surviving two terrorist attacks.

Finding ways to cope with trauma

‘Survivor’s Guilt’

Mauro struggles with survivor’s guilt but he refuses to live in fear.

“Terrorists want you to be fearful,” he said. “I won’t be fearful and nobody else should be either.”

If you’re dealing with trauma or stress from the 9/11 attack or from the many mass shootings we’ve seen in recent years, experts say you’re not alone.

Dr. Kathleen Heide, a licensed psychotherapist, says anxiety is on the rise.

“Just exposure to these traumatic events can have an effect on people,” Dr. Heide said.

Dr. Heide said the best way to combat that anxiety is by living not in fear of the past, but in the present.

“The reality is that you do what you can,” she said. “The important thing is that one has to live their life.

Here are some of the ways to deal with stress from trauma, according to experts:

  • Get your affairs in order so you feel more secure -- not powerless -- that your family is taken care of, if something should ever happen to you.
  • Talk it over with a friend, colleague, family member or anyone you feel comfortable sharing with.
  • Consider joining group therapy or a support group.
  • Seek individual trauma therapy such as EMDR treatment or with a licensed practitioner.