Auburn business owner and 9/11 survivor honors first responders - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Auburn business owner and 9/11 survivor honors first responders

AUBURN, AL (WTVM) -

9/11 survivor and Auburn Philly Connection owner, Sanel Merchant, still has nightmares about that frightful day 13 years ago.

He was working on the 49th floor of the North Tower and vividly remembers when the first commercial airplane hit the building.

"What was the most helpless moment in my life because I had nothing in my control, there was nothing I could do to stop it," explains Merchant.

Merchant escaped by taking the main staircase with hundreds of other people.

When he made it down the first 20 flights, he saw a firefighter running the opposite way.

That is when he says his perspective in life changed.

"That was superhuman. He has a smile on his face, his words were so comforting, but when I saw his eyes it was like he knew he wasn't going to come back down, yet he kept on smiling," says Merchant.

Once Merchant reached the bottom, another first responder told him to keep their backs to the windows to shield them from seeing what was falling from above.

"While they were running toward the building, I was running away from it and these people are real flesh and blood and if these people are not super heroes than who is," explains Merchant.

Even though our hearts are heavy remembering 9/11, Merchant wanted to take a positive approach.

Since he opened Philly Connection in 2005, every year on this day he thanks his super heroes for their service with a free meal.

"I feel like the happiest man," says Merchant, "when all my super heroes come into my store and I get a chance to shake their hands for all of the work they do day in and day out."

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