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L.A. economist who survived 9/11 died this summer at 78

Nancy Sidhu, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., was one of many Southern Californians in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, when a group of terrorists aimed hijacked jumbo jets at the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

Nearly 3,000 were killed in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Sidhu survived that day. The Santa Monica resident died July 4 of this year at age 78.

She told her story to Daily News staff writer Gregory J. Wilcox, and it appeared in the newspaper on Sept. 16, 2001:

Her bags were packed, and Nancy Sidhu was enjoying the final breakfast session of the National Association for Business Economics conference Tuesday when the Marriott World Trade Center shook violently.

Earthquake, Santa Monica resident Sidhu instinctively thought, and scrambled under her table.

“No! We’re leaving,” someone shouted.

So Sidhu and other economists rushed outside.

The familiar surroundings of Liberty and West streets in lower Manhattan were unrecognizable, transformed into the intersection of Horror and Hope.

It was a hellish destination where the once brilliant blue sky had turned black, a storm that rained bodies, debris and fire.

Sidhu and her colleagues headed in the direction of Hope toward the Hudson River, a forced march of the first refugees of America’s next war.

And an ugly scene would soon become a nightmare that will linger for who knows how long.

“We got out very fast and very early,” said Sidhu, an economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The few police that were on the scene at that point directed people away from West Street, where at 8:45 a.m. hijacked American Flight 11, a Boeing 767, slammed into the Trade Center’s north tower, turning the upper floors into an inferno.

“Someone with a badge said, ‘Nancy, this way,’ and he sort of pushed or led us the rest of the way throughout the morning. His name was Bob, and that’s the best I can do. The rest was fine print, and I didn’t have my glasses on,” Sidhu said.

Bob was a Vietnam veteran, she said, a man with memories of the sounds and smell of danger.

He would be good company. Her purse would be her survival kit.

The hotel that contained the group’s luggage would soon be no more.

The group set out through the World Financial Center, and though Sidhu is not sure of the exact compass heading they traveled it was generally northwest, putting as much distance between themselves and the death and destruction that was on its way.

“There was a little bit of retail. I remember a restaurant that probably served bagels and coffee. I remember an Avis and there might have been a dry cleaner. It looked like it was designed to serve the rest of Battery Park. We stopped there for a while and then the second plane hit.

“By that time I had turned the other way. I could no longer look. There were screams and I heard the plane,” she said.

On the other side of the country, in Santa Barbara, it was about 6 a.m. and her husband, Victor, an investment officer at Santa Barbara Bank and Trust Co., was getting ready for work.

The next few hours would be filled with anxious moments.

“When I saw that thing hit, I said, she’s there,” Victor Sidhu recalled.

But by 9 a.m. he’d received the welcome word that his wife survived.

Meanwhile, Sidhu and her group had forged on, trekking through a residential area, and finally reached the Peter Stuyvesant School when the first building collapsed.

Bob knew what was happening. He said he didn’t understand terrorism.

Sidhu didn’t want to see what it could do.

“I heard people screaming again. I couldn’t look because of the horror,” she said.

The group then headed for the Morgan Stanley headquarters, where they knew there would be refuge and refreshments.

A man in a big sport utility vehicle stopped and asked if they could use a lift.

He took them to 50th Street, and they headed east toward Broadway.

Along the way the evidence of destruction was apparent.

“People were congregated in groups. I remember a van with the doors wide open and the radio on loud. There would be a shop with a TV and people would be clustered around.

“No one was smiling,” she said.

By 2:30 she had reached the home of her sister-in-law, Marion Meade, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

She had something light to eat and left a message for her husband; she would be shopping for some clothes.

Sidhu was among the lucky ones. She survived and had shelter.

Sleep has not come easily, though, and she desperately wants to come home. That won’t happen until Monday.

And part of her will forever remain at the intersection of Horror and Hope.

“I’m still in the denial stage. I’m numb as much as anything else. Life won’t be the same. I’ve lost my sense of security,” Sidhu said.

Dr. Nancy Dayton Sidhu was born in Evanston, Illinois on Sept. 2, 1941. She held degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois.

Her doctoral dissertation won an award from the National Tax Association. She began her career as a professor of economics at Northeastern Illinois University and was a market analyst at Inland Steel.

She married Victor Surain Sidhu in 1962.

They came to Los Angeles in 1987, where she was an economist with Toyota USA and Security Pacific Bank before becoming chief economist for the LA Economic Development Corp.

She served as a deacon and on the finance committee for the Westwood Presbyterian Church.

She is survived by her daughter Mary and five grandchildren.

Source: Orange County Register

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