Business rebuilding after Trade Center attack

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2001

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Susan Webb entered her 3-year-old daughter's bedroom to put away laundry and had to laugh at the sight of a businessman on the purple-and-pink bed.

''There was a gentleman sitting on her Power Puff Girls bedsheet,'' Webb recalls. ''He was on a conference call. I thought it was cute.''

It was a light moment amid the tragedy.

In the three weeks since the terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center, Webb and her husband, Nick, have opened their Stamford home every day to as many as seven of Nick Webb's colleagues struggling to rebuild a business without a headquarters.

Nick Webb is vice president of sales for Baseline, a financial information firm that had 175 employees in the Trade Center. Baseline lost four employees. Webb and many colleagues narrowly escaped.

In the Connecticut suburbs outside New York City, some survivors are working out of their homes or in makeshift offices. Others are thinking about a new direction.

''Those memories might haunt me if I go back in the same direction,'' says Scott Wall, a Greenwich resident who works for Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond firm that lost about 700 employees at the Trade Center.

Wall says he will stay with the firm, but maybe work at a different division. Some of his colleagues are seeking a leave of absence.

''They want to get through Christmas,'' Wall says. ''They're lucky to be alive -- every single one.''

Even those not directly affected by the attacks are realizing how it has changed them.

Jeff Testa, who takes the train from Stratford to his insurance job in New York, says the attacks made him realize that life is too precious to spend four hours a day commuting. Now he wants to find work in Connecticut.

Pat Sileo, a Stamford resident who works for an investment bank in New York, says a man asked her to watch his bag on the train. When he did not immediately return, she became alarmed and finally looked inside the bag.

It was Chinese food.

''I guess I'm more spooked than I thought I was,'' Sileo says.

In the Webbs' leafy suburban neighborhood, a soccer ball rests on the lawn and a large American flag is draped across the front window. Inside, a laptop computer rests on the kitchen counter next to a child's compact disk. A black dog snuggles next to the fireplace on a circular rug.

Webb and his co-workers are busy trying to recreate the Baseline e-mail system, contact clients and sell research products they offer to investment management firms.

''Did you hear Rob made a sale?'' Susan Webb tells her husband excitedly. ''He's awesome.''

Lucy, the Webbs' youngest daughter, insists that her new friend Elizabeth deserves a doughnut.

''Elizabeth is diabetic and won't have a doughnut,'' Nick Webb explains to his daughter.

Bringing the work force home has posed many challenges. A virus attacked the Webbs' home computer. The electricity was shut off while the utility did some work in the neighborhood. And in the middle of all the activity inside the home, an oil tank had to be removed from their front yard.

Baseline employee Rafael Hines finds himself taking messages for the Webbs' 11-year-old daughter, Molly. For their part, the Webbs' children enjoy dealing with the adults, especially the one who does impressions of the cartoon character Scooby-Doo.

''It's been bizarre stuff every day,'' Nick Webb says. ''This is one of the times in your life when you're really going to be put to the test. It's fun to watch the people who take the challenge and go with it.''

Susan Webb says having all of her husband's colleagues around gives her family a sense of helping out in a time of tragedy.

Nick Webb helped his co-workers board elevators to escape but feels bad that he couldn't do more to save the four who never made it out. He has trouble sleeping and concentrating. He has noticed that his co-workers also are struggling.

Bonnie Seidel, a 22-year-old Fairfield resident who is a sales assistant for Baseline and escaped from the Trade Center, says she has trouble believing it was real.

''I'm still absolutely convinced Jill, Steve, Bob and Ruth are alive and that I'm going to see them again,'' Seidel says. ''I still picture my cubicle there.''

Seidel figures there is only one way to accept the loss.

''I need to see it,'' Seidel says. ''Eventually I need to go down there.''

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