Guy Tozzoli, who oversaw construction of the World Trade Center, wanted towers that were impregnable. So he considered the unimaginable: a pilot lost over New York City. His staff created a computer simulation of a Boeing 707 hitting one of the skyscrapers at cruising speed. The outside walls peeled away from seven floors but the steel-framed twin towers remained standing.
Tozzoli flashed back to that moment early Tuesday when he was trapped in a traffic jam outside the Holland Tunnel that links Manhattan to New Jersey. He said he watched in horror as a plane sped across the skyline heading directly for the giant trade complex that held his offices. It was moving too fast. There was a loud crash and a fireball erupted halfway up the building.
"All I could think about was those poor people. I knew right away they couldn't get out," said the 79-year-old New Jersey native who helped design and build the New York landmark and then created an organization to foster global commerce by exporting the idea of international trade centers to other countries.
Four decades of his life collapsed in a sickening heap of rubble. Thousands of people, including his staff, were probably trapped inside. "I was sick," said the president of the World Trade Centers Assn. "I have lived with this building for 40 years. It was like a part of me."
But after determining that his employees had escaped their 77th-floor offices in WTC's north tower, Tozzoli sent an e-mail saying he would not let a "malevolent and destructive act" derail his passionate crusade for peace through trade. His plea resonated among the association's 320 chapters in 95 countries.
"We were shocked and immobilized for a few minutes, but it became very clear that more than ever we should go ahead and not recede, because that's exactly what the terrorists expect," said Carlos Aldan de Araujo, executive vice president of the World Trade Center in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Operating from a makeshift office in his home, Tozzoli was on the phone Thursday with the Mexican government planning the announcement of a new World Trade Center in Cancun. In mid-October, he will travel to Brazil for his organization's general assembly. One of its affiliates is the World Trade Center of Los Angeles-Long Beach.
"Globalization is a given," he said in a telephone interview. "You just can't say that a few demented terrorists [are] going to make us change what's a great thing."
While still at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Tozzoli created the World Trade Centers Assn. in 1970 to help other cities replicate New York's concept of one-stop shopping for global trade. Since retiring from the port in 1987, he has run the association full time.
Tozzoli insists that trade is the best way for developing countries to improve their people's lives. He also believes that those who do business together are far less likely to go to war.
If the World Trade Center were rebuilt, Tozzoli said, he would be happy to move back in.
"I've had some close calls and I lived a great life," he said. "There's no way I have to be afraid of people like these."