Sept.11 refugees shift to Baltimore

Alex. Brown brings 125 workers here after N.Y. tragedy

September 22, 2001|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

Liz Chang has no high heels. It is a minor thing, but it's a kind of strange and unsettling reminder that lingers from a tragedy for 125 Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown employees, now working in Baltimore, who fled last week from the company's New York offices across from an exploding World Trade Center.

Investment bankers accustomed to meticulous preparation for multimillion-dollar deals, they now make due at hastily procured desks marked by paper nameplates in the Deutsche Banc Alex Brown Building at 1 South St. The family pictures and keepsakes, from Canadian flags to kayaks, that adorn the offices of fellow workers long based in Baltimore are absent in newcomers' strikingly sparse work areas.

Here, they began reassembling their working lives after arriving Monday to offices arranged by local employees. Those relocated are among about 5,500 Deutsche Banc employees - 650 of them in investment banking - displaced by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Two of them remain missing.

The workers now are scattered, with 1,400 - most of them commuting daily - in Piscataway, N.J. Others are squeezing into Deutsche Banc's Midtown Manhattan offices or working from home. Eighteen, part of the company's energy group, joined colleagues in Houston. But the largest group relocated outside New York is in Baltimore. Most were chosen because they worked in investment banking groups that already had a significant presence in the company's offices here - those working with media, consumers, telecommunications and health care.

They arrived back to work in a different world. The stock market has plummeted. The financing deals the investment bankers were working on have been left dangling like the giant piece of World Trade Center faM-gade still clinging to the front of their uninhabitable New York offices. Some are separated from families for what may turn out to be six months or more. Every missing accouterment is both an annoying hindrance and a reminder of the horrific scenes they have left behind.

"Thirty seconds don't go by that you don't think of what you saw," said Tom Casey, a managing director who fled in a hailstorm of debris after the second plane hit. "I ran out with just my wallet. No cell phone. No palm pilot. No notebook computer."

Chang, a vice president who kept her high heels in her New York office and commuted in comfortable shoes, ruined the only pair not left at work when she ran in them - clutching a purse but no keys - with a ghostly army of ash-covered workers across the Brooklyn Bridge. Now she makes due in black loafers and khakis in Baltimore's more casual environs.

Jon Ewing, an associate in the firm's industries group, tries to work while straining to remember the details of old presentations left, inaccessible, in a New York filing cabinet. He was at a presentation in the south World Trade Center tower when the first plane hit the north tower, getting out with his brief case and cell phone. But his life remains disrupted: Like Casey and Chang, he now lives weekdays in the Harbor Court Hotel, far from his Manhattan apartment.

"New York is the only place I've lived since I graduated from college," said Ewing, 25. The stay in Baltimore will be a good trial run, he thinks, of what it would be like to live in a smaller city.

Like his two colleagues, who talked about their experiences yesterday in an Alex. Brown conference room, Ewing seems grateful to have gotten back to work so quickly. Baltimore seems a quiet refuge, far from the piles of debris, the dust and the dead of New York. Chang is glad to concentrate on something other than the televised images of disaster. Casey enjoys having all of his group, which focuses on putting together investment banking deals for consumer-focused companies such as retailers, all in one office, instead of split up between Baltimore and New York.

"It's nice not to be in New York," he said. "Baltimore is a fun town: We've been out every night doing crabs."

Still, Casey misses being home weeknights with his family, including three daughters ages 12, 11 and 4. They call every day after school. He plans to commute home, at the company's expense, on the weekends to his home in Westchester County, N.Y.

Deutsche Banc has worked hard to ensure the disruption is as painless as possible. The company moved fast after the tragedy, digging into a continuing operations plan - assembled and updated regularly by eye-rolling employees who never dreamed it would be used - to set up a phone tree the day of the disaster, said Managing Director Jamie McDonald. Employees dialed in - initially three times a day - to a conference call on which accounting for the whereabouts of all workers was the first priority.

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