Edited by Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.
The World Trade Center - Twin Towers Fall
8:45 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 en route from Boston's Logan Airport to Los Angeles International with 92 people onboard, slams into the north tower of the World Trade Center"
9:03 a.m.: Approximately 18 minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 767 enroute from Boston to Los Angeles with 65 people onboard, hits the south tower of the World Trade Center."
9:43 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 enroute from Dulles Airport outside Washington to LAX with 58 passengers and six crew members, crashes into the Pentagon. One of the building's five sides collapses.
10:05 a.m.: The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses in a plume of ash and debris.
10:28 a.m.: The World Trade Center's north tower collapses.
5:25 p.m.: Seven World Trade Center, a 47-story tower, collapses from ancillary damage. ********
Danny Griffen: "I was walking along Liberty street, admiring all the buildings and squinting up at the World Trade Center when I saw this jet. It seemed to be flying awfully low. I thought it must be an optical illusion. Maybe it was a lot further away, because otherwise it was going to hit the north tower. And then I heard this whoosh. And for a moment if was as if everything went silent. Then there was the major explosion and all this stuff started falling. People around me started yelling and screaming and crying. I was in total shock."
Chris Donelly: "My girlfriend and I were talking on the cell phone. I was on my way to meet someone at Lehman Brothers. I looked up in the sky. I could see the jet. It looked like it was going to smash right into the World Trade Center. Then it did. This big ball of fire burst out from the side of the building. Then all this smoke started pouring out and debris and papers began falling in a confetti-like cloud. People on the street started screaming, and sobbing, and pointing, and yelling 'no, no, no, no, no, no.' It was terrifying. Horrible. A nightmare."
Mellisa Darden was late and hurrying for work, when she heard the sound of a jet. Mellisa knew that sound. It was a Boeing. She had flown on one for years, having worked as a flight attendant before getting married. "Right away I knew something was wrong. It was too loud. Then everything became dream-like. All the pigeons in the street flew up just as I was looking up. I saw the jet just as it hit the tower. The tower rippled at first. Shimmered. Vibrated. You could see the vibration waves rolling down toward the ground."
Patric O'Conner: "I could hear the jet. It was very loud. It was unusual. You normally don't hear a jet like that down here. I shaded my eyes and there it was. It was way too low. It was headed straight for the tower, like the pilot was going to try to fly right through the building. Then, wham. Boom. You could see the concussion move up and down the building, then the smoke and debris falling like spaghetti toward the ground.
Within seconds crowds began to gather on the sidewalk and in the street. Office workers. Store clerks. Pointing. Gesticulating. Yelling. Crying. Gaping at the incredible destruction.
Billowing smoke and tongues of flame. Then the jumpers started leaping or falling from the upper floors, where the fire was rapidly spreading. Massive amounts of jet fuel were ablaze and setting everything on fire. The building itself began to melt.
From the street, you could see what looked like dark lumps falling along the side of the building. Many were not sure what they were seeing.
What they were seeing were people: Men and women jumping and leaping out of the window.
Sarah Sampino couldn't take her eyes off the 85th floor. Smoke was billowing from the windows. "I use to work on that floor," she said. Now her old office was in flames and there were people jumping from the 85th floor to their death.
Many couldn't control their own movements. The heat was unbearable. They were forced to run, to leap, to get out of the raging fires any way they could. Many fell to their death in their mad scramble to escape the hellish flames. The heat was so intense that the choice was to burn alive, or jump.
Some had the presence of mind not to jump, but having nowhere else to go, they tried to climb down from the broken windows, to shimmy down the outside of the tower.
But the tower was melting. The temperatures of the outerskin was rapidly climbing to beyond a thousand degrees. They couldn't hold on, because their hands were on fire. They let go, and fell to the ground.
Some managed to climb down two or three floors. But the fire was faster than they were. A few hung precariously, but the heat was just too intense. These brave souls flipped backward, falling, flailing their arms, down into the abyss.
A policeman who had just arrived on the scene was paralyzed by the sight. "People were actually jumping right in front of us. One after another, just splattering."
What would it be like? One moment, you are sitting in the office, high above Manhattan, having coffee, kidding with friends, and the next minute, you are free-falling from the 80th floor.
"This has got to be a dream," you might have said. "This has got to be a nightmare. This is not happening. Wake up! Wake up!"
Time itself would slow down to an eternity. If you were not badly burned or in pain, you would have lots of time to think. Many of those who have been in traumatic situations where their lives are in danger, often report that everything slows down. You enter a realm of delayed motion.
Some who face death and are involved in horrific accidents, even report disassociating from their own bodies. They see themselves as if from afar, like watching an actor on a movie screen.
Those who leaped, or fell, or who were sucked out of the building may have also had a disassociating experience. They are not only falling, as part of the tragedy, but in that moment, they become witnesses. Like a member of the audience or a person on the ground below looking up and watching you fall. Like a person sitting in an adjacent office window as you fall.
The people on the street can only gasp and cry.
Then a second plane appeared in the sky.
Some have speculated that the 18 minute delay between attacks was purposeful. That the attacks were staggered to give the media a chance to set up their cameras and have then focused on the towers in time to capture the second attack: to make a recording that would last for all eternity. The trauma could thus be relived over and over and over again, and whatever message the terrorists mean tto send, could be experienced for ever.
"This was staged like it was a TV show. It was meant to be right before our eyes. " said Joan Deppa, a Syracuse University professor and expert on the media and disasters.
When the second plan appeared in the sky, people on the streets began to panic. Many cried and sobbed. Many others wisely began to run away.
The jet banked upward and flew directly into the south Tower, picking a location somewhat below that chosen for the north Tower. There was a huge fireball and the upper floors exploded. Debris, glass and pieces of human bodies were cast into the air, and down to the ground. Metal and concrete the size of boulders landed in the street, crushing and maiming those down below.
Scott was getting ready to leave his apartment, which was just 3 blocks south of the World Trade Center. "I heard what I thought was a car accident. But then, a few seconds after, I could hear lots of debris hitting the building and I thought that maybe a car bomb had gone off. I finished getting dressed and went outside. I was still thinking 'car bomb" and walked north to the corner and there was a human hand on the ground. Someone quickly threw a coat over it so it couldn't be seen. That's when I looked up and saw that the north tower had a big burning hole at the top of it. All of a sudden, I heard the sound of an airplane and looked up to see a commercial jet slam right into the south tower. I was probably only 200 yards from the base of the building and watched the plane come in, hit the building and explode. All of a sudden it was like a movie scene, where everyone just turned and were literally running for their lives."
Cars and trucks ground to a halt. Men and women bolted from their vehicles and ran for their lives. People were running, crying, screaming.
An empty baby stroller sat abandoned in the plaza. Dozens of abandoned handbags, shoes, backpacks and bicycles littered the streets.
Men and women ran for their lives down Vesey Street. Waves of screaming people stampeded down Church St., looking for anywhere to hide.
The skies were filled with flames and billowing smoke. On the ground lay broken glass and shiny metal and chunks of concrete... and human bodies. Bodies, some flung from the upper stories, some killed by falling debris, lay here and there along the sidewalks and the street. A bicycle messenger lay on his side, the torso of a man lay nearby.
Richard Micok worked on the 50th floor with a bonds trader, but had gone out to a get some bagels and coffee. "I turned around and saw the plane heading towards the building.... I rushed back. My friends were inside. On the ground I saw bodies and flesh just lying around like a slaughterhouse. I will never forget the sight of a burning corpse or the stench of burning flesh."
Now some of those on the upper floors of the south tower, who had watched the unfolding drama taking place in the tower next door, they too began to leap and jump to escape the roaring flames. Dozens of desperate men and women, trapped by searing flames, gathered at the broken windows and stared out into the abyss, hoping beyond hope that they might be rescued alive. There was no escape. They were a thousand feet up. The raging fires were roaring toward them.
One by one they plunged from the top floors of the towers...anything to escape the roaring hell that was bearing down on them.
When the second jet hit, some of the occupants of the south tower had already packed their things intending to go, some were already in the elevator on their way to safety and home. But for many it was too late.
Those riding the elevators were enveloped in a sea of flames. Those on the upper floors where the second jet struck-- their offices had become flaming graves.
"The whole building moved and it was swaying back and forth. I heard a muffled boom and I thought everything was just going to collapse. People were rushing and merging together and going crazy."
The floor began to tremble. Windows cracked and fell, There were periodic eruptions. On some floors, giant balls of flame burst out of the walls. Bodies were helplessly tumbling out, some of them in flames.
Many of those inside the towers, particularly those in offices on the lower floors, felt the impact of the crash but had no idea what happened. For those on the upper floors, however, the impact was so horrendous that they instantly realized their lives were in mortal danger.
Those who were working on the 90th floor heard an incredible deafening explosion which shook the upper building with such intensity that those standing were thrown to the floor. So much debris instantly filled the air, that almost everyone realized they had to leave. But many couldn't because they had been hurt, or couldn't find the way out. There was so much debris and so much smoke, that it was almost impossible to see or to breathe.
Chris, who was visiting with his girlfriend on the 40th floor, felt what he thought was an earthquake. "It was like some kind of giant serpent slithered beneath the floor, making the floors swell up and then sway back and forth. My girlfriend panicked. I told her, ‘Let’s get out of here.' We went out into the hall and it was already starting to fill with smoke. The stairwells too were filling up with smoke. Smoke was coming down from the top floors.”
Those seeking to escape the chaos and the ever present threat of death, made their way down emergency staircases and then poured into the interconnection concourse that links the two towers at ground level.
The escape was orderly, but painfully and often frightfully slow. As recalled by one survivor: "I was at the tail end of the crowd. You wait. People are orderly. It's crowded and it's slow. You go down a few steps and it would stop. Some of the stops were five minutes. You don't know why."
B.J.B. recalls that he had just come back from a meeting at 7:30am in the neighboring World Financial Center building where he used to work when he was with Merrill Lynch. His office is on the 38th floor of the World Trade Center: .
“I had just come back and was sitting at my desk for about 10 minutes before I heard and felt the first attack. I heard a thunderous BOOM and then felt the jostling and swaying of the WTC 1 building. The feeling was something akin to someone grabbing you by the shoulders and swinging you back and forth a few times.
Startled I looked out the window just a few feet away to see glass, thousands of sheets of paper and large metal pieces raining down from above. My first thought was that the top of the building blew off by some gas explosion or that a plane or helicopter had clipped the top of the building.
For a brief moment I had the impulse to get closer to the window and look out. Then I had second thoughts. I grabbed my wallet, keys and Palm Pilot (they were right in front of me) and ran to the emergency stairwell.
It's funny how nobody really knows where the stairwell is until something like this happens. I finally found it.
It took me 20 minutes to get down. The stairs are narrow and only wide enough for people to walk down two abreast. Several times the flow of people-traffic stopped. Around the 20th floor, we started seeing lots of smoke. Around the 9th floor, the firemen, running up the stairs, passed by with the look of uncertainty in their eyes. Water started rushing down the stairs like a river a few floors further below.
At this point, nobody knew what was going on. No one knew a jet had struck the tower. No one knew that terrorists had hijacked a jet and committed suicide by striking the World Trade Center. We had no idea how serious the situation was. The people on the lower floors had any idea as to why exactly they were abandoning the building, and I don't think the people on the upper floors had much time to think about it.
It was hot. The temperature in the stairwell was rising due to the amount of people trying to get out. It was nerve wracking. The sounds of men and women getting nervous didn't help the people trying to cling to their sanity.
Finally, we had made it to the lobby. I was one of the lucky ones because I was only on the 38th floor. There were still a lot of people trying to get out.
I could hear the sound of stuff falling outside. It was raining broken glass, debris and burning "stuff".
The sight of one of the tallest buildings in the world in flames makes you a bit terrified, but very thankful that you made it out.
A lot of people were running. I joined them. We were headed towards a covered bridge that runs between the WTC and the World Financial Center (across the West Side Highway, going towards the water). That’s when I began to see the bodies... bodies on the ground, bodies that were still falling. I can tell you, that’s one thing that you never want to see is someone falling 80 stories to the ground.
There were over 5,000 people in each tower. Thousands were trying to escape. The stairs became increasingly crowded. Heat began to build from the fires that raged up above. Water was pouring down the stairwell, and all the while the building was creaking and cracking, and it felt like it was coming apart. Walls creaked and then cracked.”
As related by Sandra Gonzales: " All the way down it felt like the ground was falling out from under you. I knew the building had been severely damaged, and all the way down you could feel that it was about to collapse. Then the lights went dark. I just wanted out of there."
John Labriola had started a new contract for the Port Authority about two weeks prior to the attack on the World Trade Center. His account on the morning of September 11: "I drove in that day down the East River Drive and parked in a lot three blocks south of WTC 2. I started taking pictures. The light was beautiful that morning. At 8:05 a.m. I took a photo of the Trade Center and the Greek Orthodox Church that shares the lot with the parking lot, just south of WTC2.
The Port Authority had given me a cubicle on the south side of the 71st floor in the north tower of the World Trade Center. At 8:30 a.m. I was in a status meeting on 71 East. Suddenly, the building rocked and then swayed first in one direction then shuddered back and forth at least five or six feet in each direction and finally settled. None of us were hurt or knocked off our seats but getting up while the building was moving was difficult. From the conference room door I could see out the window. The sky was so blue. Papers were flying everywhere. It looked like a ticker tape parade. We were on the east side of the building. We speculated from the start that we were hit by a plane. I ran around the floor to the south side of the building, grabbed my backpack and laptop. Everyone was off the floor pretty quickly. I, and the guy I report to, headed out to the lobby.
One of the stairwells smelled strongly of smoke, so we avoided that one. The other seemed okay and we joined a group of others. We walked down two by two stopping every so often for some unknown reason. Some people were helped down from higher floors with terrible burns over their bodies. Whenever necessary we would press ourselves into a single file line to let the people who had been badly burned and injured get by. It was pretty hot; people were slipping on the sweat of the people who had come before them. In some places the smoke was worse than others. People covered their mouths and eyes with whatever they had available. A fellow who had been on the 81st floor told me his floor was set on fire immediately after the first plane struck.
We were still climbing down the stairs when the second plane struck. We felt it, but had no idea what it was. It wasn't until someone began getting news on his pager that we knew that a plane had hit each of the towers and the Pentagon. People were constantly checking their cell phones to see if there was service. Many of us had service but no calls could get out. I remember joking that we should all buy stock in the first company whose service worked.
Around the 35th floor we started meeting a steady stream of firefighters walking up and had to press into single file again. None of them said a word as they went up and past us carrying unbelievable loads of equipment. They were already exhausted by the time we started seeing them. I can't stop thinking about the look in their eyes and how heroic they were. I pray some of them made it out.
As we continued down the stairwells, water started pouring down the steps. This got worse as we got lower down. The stairwell led down to an outside door lined with emergency workers who were urging us to move to safety. The courtyard where this outdoor landing led us onto must have been blocked or too dangerous for us to cross because we were directed back into that second floor balcony again and down two escalators into the mall under Tower 1.
Water was falling everywhere - 8 to 10 inches in some places. Many of the stores had their windows blown out. All along the way emergency workers urged us to keep moving. I went up another escalator in the northeast corner of the mall and out onto Church Street. I was outside; it took 50 minutes in all to get down. As I stepped into the light, emergency workers were yelling, "Don't look up, keep moving!" I crossed the street and tilted my head upwards. It was unreal. I saw someone fall from Tower 1: I stopped looking up.
I looked at the ground around us and there was a lot of blood. Some shrapnel caught my attention. I couldn't stop thinking that it must have been from the plane. Shoes where everywhere, newspapers and blood. When I looked up, the people I was with were gone."
Eric S. Levine was on the 64th Floor. “I was sitting at my computer reading the BBC on the Internet when I heard an explosion. I ran to a window and looked out to see large amounts of debris --papers, metal, all kinds of things-- floating down towards the street. Someone called out to me, ‘Is there anyone down there?’ ‘Yes!’ I said and he yelled at me to, "Get your ass into the stairwell’ because we were evacuating!
At first people were still very calm and were evacuating in an orderly fashion. We had reached either the 51st or the 50th floor when we heard a huge explosion, which shook the building like crazy! I grabbed hold of the stairwell to steady myself. A woman actually fell down on top of me and knocked me down. I then tried to stand up but the building was still shaking and the lights were flickering on and off. It was terrifying!
Then the building began to sink - that's the only way I can describe it. The floor began to lower under your feet and all I could think about was that it would crack open and I would fall hundreds of feet to my death! Until this moment no one knew what was going on, and no one was really scared yet. Everyone thought the problem was in 1 WTC, the other tower. Not in our tower. Once the building felt like it was sinking and started to shake, everything just turned into pandemonium! People began screaming and crying and praying out loud for God to help them. People were panicking and a stampede started and they were running each other down.
Myself and the Philippine woman who had landed on me and a few other people waited for the initial surge to subside and then we began to move down the stairwell again. Somewhere between the 44th and 34th floors I lost sight of the little Philippine woman who had been hanging onto my arm for dear life. She was there one moment and gone the next. This really bothers me a lot.
Around the 25th floor we began to smell jet fuel. There was a lot of it. I have asthma and it became difficult to breathe. By the 15th floor it became unbearable due to the amount of smoke that was now entering the stairwell. So I took off my shirt and wrapped it around my head to help me breathe and it worked, but my eyes were stinging real bad.
It took about 40 minutes to get down that stairwell. We were met by rescue people, firemen, and cops who were asking if anyone needed medical attention and then yelling at you to keep moving towards the escalators. I don't think that those guys got out.
I remember that when we were about to get on the escalators, you could look out the windows onto the square between the two buildings. I could see the large ball sculpture and the fountain and lots and lots of bodies-- some were still falling to the ground and some still smoldering. I will never forget that sight as long as I live."
As employees working at the World Trade Center made their mad dash for safety and ran into the streets, most were stunned to see how deadly the situation really was and just how much their lives had been in jeopardy. Clouds of smoke filled the air. Debris and broken glass were everywhere. People were crying and weeping in hysterics. Everything, everyone was covered in soot. There were bodies and body parts everywhere.
One young woman turned and looked up just in time to see a body fall from the tower she had just escaped.
An associate producer for Fox News Channel who had just arrived at the base of the World Trade Center said, "I saw people falling out of the building from the top. People in ties and jackets, free-falling backwards with their hands out. It looked like they were parachuting, but without the parachutes."
Martin, a college student, who was there to meet a friend, looked up into the smoked filled skies only to witness "people literally jumping off or falling off the towers. It was like a weird unbelievable nightmare. Maybe I imagined it, but I thought I could hear people screaming in torment as they fell."
Some stood and gawked. But many ran panicked and ran for their lives. It was pure frenzy..
Michael Stock had been riding the escalator when the first jet hit. There was an immediate stampede for safety, though many stopped to stare.
As recalled by Stock: "I stood in the doorway where the train station meets the street. From the doors you were able to see lots and lots of debris falling. The first decision was, do you cross the street to get away from the debris? But on the other hand, thousands were running. Would I be killed by the stampede? Luckily when I was running, most of the debris was paper stuff."
Triage units were set up out in the open, next to the Trade Center in front of the Hilton Millennium Hotel on Church St. Office workers who had escaped the damaged buildings, but with severe burns and injuries, sat on the sidewalk as blood and puss streamed from open wounds. There was a woman in a slinky black dress, her face covered in blood. There was a man wearing the remnants of a smoldering three piece suit, his face red, scarred and puffy. The hair was burnt from his face and head. A young woman lay curled in a ball, crying hysterically. Another sat staring mutely, her body half naked and burnt. A young man wearing a bicycle messenger outfit lay on the ground cursing and nursing a broken leg. A few feet away, a heavyset woman was plumped on the sidewalk, shaking uncontrollably, her hair caked in blood, and breathing through an inhaler as a rescue worker attended her wounds.
And strewn upon the ground were the body parts. A naked leg with its foot inside a shiny shoe. A bone with grizzled muscle and hunks of skin.
"I saw body parts," said attorney John Fulweiler whose hair, face and suit were covered with dust. "I looked down and saw this hunk of flesh."
Meanwhile, people kept streaming out of the buildings as rescue workers and firefighters raced in.
Many believed the worst was over. It was time to tend their wounds and thank god they were alive. True, there were people to be saved and fires to be fought. But the terror of the unknown was gone. They were bruised, battered, and frightened, but they had got out. Thank god, they had escaped. Except for pain of their injuries, the worst was over.
No one suspected what was coming next.
10:05 a.m. It was at that moment that the south tower collapsed in a plume of ash and debris.
Police officers on the scene may have been the first to realize what was about to happen next. They began warning people to get up, to keep moving, to head north. "The buildings may fall. Go. Run!" they urged.
But that was unthinkable. The injured stayed put. The tired sat down. Those waiting to use the pay phone stayed in line. And rescuer workers, medical technicians, doctors, nurses, and firemen, continued to do their jobs: saving people, fighting fires, and tending the injured.. Most ignored the increasingly frantic warning of the police.
And then it got worse.
The south Tower shook. There was a deafening, ear splitting roar, and then the south tower began to lean to the side and then implode upon itself. In dream-like slow motion it mushroomed in on itself and fell down to the ground.
Horror and catastrophe were raining down from the smoke covered sky. Glass and aluminum sheathing crashed to the pavement, crushing, maiming, and killing those down below.
As described by one survivor: "It was horrifying. It was just unreal. The building went down, almost in slow motion, and a black, black cloud just spread over lower Manhattan."
The cloud began expanding, growing larger, rising upward and then downward, swallowing the streets and all in its path as it sped uptown. People began running, running, chased down the canyons of the city by the blinding storm -- this tornado of dust and ash. Then, everything turned black.
The force of the wind unleashed by the collapsing tower blew Linda Lorenz across the street, unto the hood of a car. There was so much smoke and debris she couldn't see. She could barely breathe. She rolled off the car and discovered the door was ajar. She slid inside, but it was already filled with dust. "I was choking on dust. On this gray grime. I was dry-heaving and kept spitting up this thick black gunk. It was awful. I felt like I was drowning."
After escaping from the north tower, John Labriola decided to head south down Broadway toward his car.
"The doors to Trinity Church were open so I stepped inside. A priest was leading a prayer service; I knelt to say a prayer. That was when the south Tower fell. There was an incredible explosion. You could feel it as much as hear the building collapse. The stained glass church windows that had been filled with color and light turned inky black. Debris hit the roof of the church. People dove under pews. I looked out the front door. I couldn't see three feet in front of me. I thought, ‘It must be impossible to breath outside.’" We gathered everyone inside the church, searched for and found some water and food. We made up wet towels if, for any reason, we had to leave the protection of the church. We waited for the air outside to be clear enough to see. Someone found a radio and positioned it on a pulpit.
It grew lighter outside the church. And then, the second building fell. Blackness again. Larger objects were hitting the roof of the church.
Outside it was a mess. Winds would whip through the streets causing temporary white outs and blacking out the sun. I remember thinking that they must have been caused by the draft from the fire. Emergency vehicles caused their own white outs and you would have to hide your faces as they came by. The group I left with headed south, then east, then north. All along the way, people were gathered in disbelief. Radios drew larger crowds. I remember someone talking on a cell phone telling his friend that no one above the 60th floor could have gotten out. I told him that that wasn't true, that I had walked down from 71. He called after me, "Thank you Sir. Thank you.”
The towers were doomed to collapse, not because of the impact of the two hijacked jets, but because of the fire.
Even after the jets struck, no one suspected that the Twin Towers, with their unique steel and concrete architecture could possibly collapse. More than 200,000 tons of steel and 425,000 cubic yards of concrete went into creating the structures. They were built to withstand almost any kind of conceivable punishment.
As pointed out by Hyman Brown, a University of Colorado civil engineering professor and the Trade Center's construction manager, the Twin Towers were in fact constructed so that they could withstand the direct force of an airline crash. Because of their height, this was factored in during their construction. It was always a possibility that an accident could occur. "But steel melts, and 24,000 gallons of aviation fluid melted the steel. Nothing is designed or will be designed to withstand that fire."
Indeed, almost all experts are in agreement. No building could withstand the power of these two hammer blows and the ensuing fire.
The hammer blows and the ensuing fire made it inevitable. The towers had to have been weakened by the initial impact of each jet. But it was the heat of the raging fires, ignited by the jet's leaking petrol, which sealed the towers’ fate.
Each jet carried over 24,000 gallons of aviation fuel. Once these were set ablaze, temperatures rose to above 20,000 degrees. It would be impossible for any building to resist those temperatures.
However, when it comes to intense heat and an ensuing total collapse, the 1400 foot Twin Towers were particularly vulnerable.
In building the Twin Towers, the designers wished to provide the maximum possible amount of office area. They wanted lots of space, and this could be achieved by eliminating the interior support columns--a standard feature of almost all skyscrapers. Instead, interior columns were replaced by exterior core, tubular steel columns which would hold not just the walls up, but the floors as well.
Once the tubular steel columns that ringed the building began to melt, the attached floors would have become detached. That floor would fall, striking the floor below which is also weakened by the heat. Each massive floor collapsed and caved into the one below it, like a domino effect.
As the floors collapsed one by one, they would have created a chimney at the center of the building, allowing the fires to grow to even greater intensities. Steel melts as the tubular column began to weaken. One floor, then another and another, began to fall, causing the entire tower to implode all the way down to the ground floor.
For those who escaped and survived the collapsing towers, timing was everything. There was only a brief moment before the window of opportunity slammed shut, killing those who had lingered or were left behind.
“If I didn’t leave the minute I did," said Thomas Lochtefeld, "I’d be dead."
In the south tower, some had begun to evacuate, when they heard an announcement urging them to return to work. They went back to their offices and certain death.
Mike Shillaker had traveled from England and was at the World Trade Center on business. "We were on the 72nd floor of WTC2 when the first plane hit Tower 1 - we heard the bang, and saw debris. Thank god, the client that I and my colleague were visiting had the sense to realize what was going on and told us to get out of the building. As we got to around floor 50, a message came over the loudspeakers, telling us that there was an isolated fire in Tower 1, and we did not need to evacuate Tower 2. Again, thank god we continued down. Others didn't. As we reached around floor 38, the second plane hit. We escaped. We were very lucky: many, many others, I know-- were not so lucky. As we ran, the vivid picture of streams and streams of firefighters traveling towards the scene will stick in my mind forever. As we were escaping, they were heading straight towards a total disaster area - and I think even then, we realized that many of those men and women would probably not return from the scene alive.”
For many of those who returned or remained in their offices on the upper floors, and for those who were trapped above the carnage and destruction left by the hijacked planes, there was no escape.
John Hart was working on the top floors of the South Tower. His job was to help integrate computer systems with a recently merged company. When the first jet struck, he called his wife Laurie to tell her what happened and then reassured her he was safe. He called her back 20 minutes later, after the second jet barreled into the floors beneath his own.
“Laurie," he said, "I've got big problems." In the background she could hear people screaming. Then the line was cut off.
The second jet struck the 70th floors. Many of those on the floors immediately beneath the site of impact were also doomed. There would be almost no opportunity to run, no chance to escape. Like many of those on the floors above the site of impact, they would be consumed by flames.
There were flames everywhere. Giant balls of flames were bursting out of both sides of the tower. It was a raging inferno fueled by the jellied petroleum spilling from the guts of the jet. Secondary fires began to erupt everywhere throughout the upper floors.
When a fire starts inside a building, once the building structure itself and the materials inside that building start to burn, it can race through the building faster than a person can run.
It was this raging inferno and the secondary explosions as pools of jet fuel exploded which presumably ended the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of those on the north and south tower’s upper levels, and which killed so many firemen.
"It must have been hell," said firefighter Paul Curran of New York Fire Patrol 3. "There were a lot of jumpers. I saw bodies hit the upper level concrete of the second floor overhang of Tower One. Others were falling into West Street."
Eight firemen from Ladder No. 5 company, the first upon the scene, were apparently consumed by a giant fireball. One of these men, Mike Warchola, was retiring the next day. Another, Greg Saucedo, was expecting to be promoted to lieutenant.
But this was their job: To save people. And certainly all of these men knew with fatal certainty that they might die. They could feel the heat, hear the secondary explosions and the crackle and roar of the flames. They could smell the gas, the fuel from the jet, and could see the orange red flames and the thick black smoke. But they could also hear the screams, the blood curdling shrieks, and the cries for help. And that's what they were there for. That's what they were trained for. And they died trying to save lives. They were brave and selfless heroes.
The men of Ladder No. 24, pulled up in their trucks at the same time as Ladder No. 5. Without hesitating, the men went straight up into the north tower. They climbed stairwell "A".
"We made it up 37 floors carrying a lot of heavy equipment," said Marcel Claes of Engine No. 24, "and we got an urgent message to come right back down. I think the Ladder 5 guys may have proceeded up farther."
But in coming back down, Marcel became separated from his buddies. He was directed to another stairwell on the sixth floor. "I manned my rig as the pump operator, but we ran out of water. I had to take care of that and get more water. I went back down and outside." That's when the south tower fell killing all inside.
Other rescuers, including New York City's finest- the NYPD, and Port Authority officers, were killed when the south and then the north tower collapsed.
Likewise, many of those seeking to escape these towering buildings also died because they were still inside, or were unable to vacate quickly enough.
It took many of the survivors working between the 80th and 90th floors of the north Tower, as long as an hour to make it down the stairs and to the ground floors. Many were just exiting the building when the south tower collapsed. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands more, still inside, trying to escape.
As reported by one survivor, Kim White: “We were up the escalator about to go out the door when the building collapsed.”
Others died because they ran back inside to rescue or help a beloved friend or dear colleague.
Some believe this was the fate of John Hart. Some believe that John had escaped the fires consuming the upper floors, had dodged the advancing flames, and made it down the stairwell, only to turn back at the last moment to save a friend.
As later reported by a family friend, "Someone got a report that they saw him come out of the building and then go back in to help someone, which would totally be John."
Fire fighting unit, Ladder 7, got the call at 9:10 a.m., and arrived in front of the south tower within minutes.
They were followed by Engine 16 which arrived a few minutes later. As related by Firefighter Lieutenant Kross, when his truck pulled up, people were running, debris was falling, fires were billowing from the side of the towers, and it was utter chaos.
The men of Ladder 7 had already entered the south tower and were on their way up the stairwells, logging their gear, moving slowly, single file past the frightened civilians who were heading the other way.
Kross was told to report to the fire chief who was on the 23rd floor of the north tower. Engine crew 16 followed close behind.
The men of Ladder 7 had continued up the stairwell of the south tower and were making good progress, some of the survivors recalling that they had passed these men on the 40th floor.
Kross and the chief began to confer, detailing the plan of attack, when the building began to rumble. “I thought it was an elevator falling to the ground..”
It was the south tower.
Kross immediately ordered his men to evacuate. "When we got down to the fourth floor there was the loudest rumble I’ve heard in my life,” says Kross. “I grabbed my helmet over my head and made myself into a small ball.” All around him the world began to collapse. “I thought I was going to die.”
When Kross opened his eyes, he was covered with debris and in complete darkness. He was sure the north tower had collapsed on top of him. Slowly, cautiously, he sought to free himself from the rubble and finally found a small opening. He climbed through it only to fall down to the next floor, landing beside a battalion chief and another lieutenant. "I thought we were totally buried and we remained huddled there so as to not dislodge more debris and bring more of the building down on us." But about an hour, as the smoke and clouds of dust began to clear, they saw light and crawled to safety, only to discover that their "brothers" in Ladder 7, had all been killed.
Dozens of rescue workers were killed while treating injured victims who had made the harrowing escape from the towers before they fell. Temporary medical states, triage units, and fire command posts had been established at the base of the south tower. Yet another had been set up beneath a bridge which enabled pedestrians to walk to and from the World Trade Center and the World Financial Center at 200 Liberty Street.
When the second jet hit, many of those at the base were killed by falling debris, including high ranking officers who were directing the rescue operation.
When the south tower collapsed, the bridge was struck and also fell, killing those working beneath it.
When the south tower began to implode, people began running, screaming, yelling. It was a stampede of terrified people in mass hysteria. Those who fell were trampled to death, or crushed and suffocated by the billowing clouds of ash and falling debris.
To Scott, "it looked like a demolition explosion because it blew out in all directions and the top quarter just started to fall downward.” He continued, “Everyone was pretty much paralyzed for a second or two as we watched it fall and then I think we all realized that a massive cloud of debris and/or building was heading our way. People were jumping into the river.
I sprinted to the closest building I saw, which turned out to be a restaurant with a large glass wall facing the river. I was pressed against the glass with a few other people when the cloud of debris finally came over the building. The air quickly got pretty thick full of ash. I took my shirt off and wrapped it around my face and head and started banging on the window with 2 other guys trying to figure out how to get into the restaurant. I could barely breathe, let alone see. My eyes were on fire."
Ray Charles is an emergency medical technician. His brother, a police officer with the NYPD, was one of those killed when the south tower crumbled, crushing those down below.
“A lot of people got smashed. Just look around,” said Ray Charles, pointing out the shattered wreckage. “The ground here is covered with destroyed and smashed fire equipment. There’s breathing apparatus, defibrillators, oxygen tanks, and fire hoses."
“They lost some of their chiefs today,” said Ray Kiernan, Chief of the New Rochelle Fire Department. “They have to feel terribly. Dozens of guys were in there. The loss is going to be terrible.”
After the south tower collapsed, firefighters began a Herculean effort to save their "brothers." They dove into the wreckage. "They were just tearing metal apart with their bare hands, trying to get there to get them out," said Tracy Kraus, an emergency medical technician.
And it is because of the heroic efforts to save their colleagues, because they refused to stop, that so many of these men also died, when the second tower collapsed.
"More than 300 firefighters were killed," reported Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen. Three top fire department officials, including Ray Downey, Chief of Special Operations Command, were killed. Downey, 63, was on the job for 39 years. Two out of his five children are firefighters. In 1995, Chief Downey led a team of New York firefighters to Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“It is unimaginable, devastating, unspeakable carnage,” said firefighter Scott O’Grady. “To say it looks like a war zone and to tell you about bodies lying in the street and blood and steel beams blocking roads would not begin to describe what it’s like. It’s horrible.”
“I must have come across body parts by the thousands,” said Angelo Otchy, a rescuers from the National Guard.
Many died because they lingered at the base of the World Trade Center, talking to friends, watching the firefighters and the unfolding drama, or waiting in line to use the pay phone. Every cell phone in the city had stopped working. The phone signals had been coming from the top of what once were the Twin Towers.
As related by one survivor, Robert Mattox: "No one's cell phones were working, and people were lined up at the pay phones. There were people crying hysterically. There were people needing to get in touch with their families.”
Many of these people were killed by falling debris, or suffocated and drowned in falling dust when the south tower collapsed. Even those standing at least a block away weren’t safe from being killed by the sea of dust.
Scott Matthews and his brother were visiting from California and were standing at least 100 yards away.
"All at once people started shouting and screaming, 'It's coming down. It's coming down! And then there was this horrible roar. Me and my brother ran for our lives. Everybody was running, screaming. People were falling, tripping over each other and screaming. I still remember that roar and the screams. Even the men were screaming. I think even I was screaming. We ran for out lives. When we looked back, it was like it had been hit my an atomic bomb."
Many escaped because once they left the building, they kept going.
Michael Stork had made it to Battery Park when the first tower collapsed.
"I heard it before it fell. It sounded like an explosion, a bomb. People began running again.... and then as it collapsed, it was like whiteout in a blizzard, you couldn't see anything from all the ash."
Stock was covered with dust and ash. "Everybody's hair was covered in gray. My shoes were covered in gray. My glasses were covered. I saw it on my hands. Felt it on my hair. In my eyes."
Martin, an art student, had lingered, fearing for the safety of his friend. "There was a loud rumbling and everybody began running and ducking for cover as the south tower collapsed...then it was just pure blackness. The air was filled with dust and dark smoke. I could see nothing. I was on the ground. Something had hit me and had thrown me against a wall. I thought I was dead."
According to rescue worker Trina Lopez, "when the tower collapsed, people were screaming and running, and all this stuff was barreling down the streets; this giant cloud, like an avalanche of dust and debris, white powder, soot, papers... and this huge gray cloud, like it was alive... like we were in this blinding storm. It just covered everything until everything turned pitch black, and so thick, you could hardly breathe."
"It was like a blizzard, like a tornado. It had that kind of power. It knocked me down and blew me face first underneath a car," reported Gilbert Rios. "It was a rolling black cloud ten stories tall, coming at you and building speed. You couldn't see. You couldn't breathe. You couldn't outrun it."
Allison Keyes, a WCBS radio reporter, was interviewing rescue workers when the tower began to collapse. "The police said, 'Run.' And everybody ran. You could hear the building falling behind you. I looked back once and saw bricks flying, and then this huge cloud of smoke and dust," she said. "My eyes were open, but it was like you were in a dark room."
Many of those who had been closer to the falling towers, were smothered to death. They drowned in dust. Emergency Medical Service workers reported discovering dozens of bodies buried beneath two feet of soot.
Emergency Medical Service worker Louis Garcia reported that "bodies are all over the place, all buried beneath the soot. There’s two feet of soot everywhere, and a lot of the vehicles are running over bodies because they are all over the place.”
Others were killed by the falling debris, including Rev. Mychal Judge, 68, known as “Father Mike” . The fire department chaplain perished while giving last rites to a firefighter, who lay dying when a body falling from the Towers struck him. Father Mike was hit by debris falling from the Towers when he removed his fire hat to pray.
Father Mike, a 68-year-old Franciscan priest, had been serving as the FDNY’s chaplain for 10 years. He lived in a friary on West 31st Street, next to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and across from Engine Co. 1/Ladder Co. 24, which had lost seven firefighters. His room was simple; he had a desk, a chair, and a sofa bed.
He was one of the first to arrive on the scene of the disaster. He died tending to the physical and spiritual needs of others.
Firefighters involved in the rescue effort found the priest. They carried him to nearby to St. Peter's Church and prayed for him. They placed his body on the altar and rushed back to do their job-- saving lives.
Days later, firefighters came to pay respect to the beloved chaplain at the St. Francis Assisi Church. Father Mike was laid to rest wearing his monk's robe and his fire helmet by his side. Reverend Michale Duffy, who delivered the eulogy, said that the priest was “on the other side of death, there to greet firefighters.” As comfort to the mourners, Reverend Duffy also added, “He was right where the action was -- where he always wanted to be. He was praying, he was talking to God and he was helping someone.” Former President Bill Clinton, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, and daughter Chelsea, were at the funeral.
Firefighter Paul Curran of New York Fire Patrol 3, had just entered the lobby when the tower began to rumble and then disintegrate. "We all just ran," he said. "We couldn't do nothing but save ourselves. I got under a parked car with my respirator on. I was in total darkness for at least five minutes."
"You know what haunts me?" said Pete Genova. "There had to be 200 firemen that passed us on our way down. God only knows how many were up there when it collapsed." More than 300 are still unaccounted for and presumed dead.
After the south tower had fallen, rescue workers, police officer, and firemen, all attacked the rubble, tearing through the plaster and bent metal, looking for survivors, colleagues, and friends. Firefighters searched for their "brothers" --men they had shared meals with, whose wives and families they knew, whose homes they had visited. The men buried beneath the rubble were their brethren, and they dug until their hands were bleeding and raw.
"Everyone was hoping to find someone alive and pull him out," said retired fire fighter, Stephen Sullivan, the next day. "You hope. But you're afraid too, of what you'll find."
And so they dug. They could hear cries. Calls for help. Victims buried beneath the rubble were calling on their cell phones, pleading, begging for help.
But the nightmare was not yet over.
10:28 a.m.. The north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
And again they ran. Again they stampeded. Cops, firemen, rescue workers, the walking wounded: they panicked, and people tripped and fell as they ran for their lives.
Again, rescuers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, and victims, were suffocated or killed by the falling debris.
Hundreds of rescue workers were instantly killed. Mountains of soot and ash again tore through the city's narrow downtown streets, blanketing everything and everyone in inches of suffocating dust. Thousands of people were swallowed up as day turned into night and then into hell as the north tower thundered down to the ground.
Instead of two towers, there were now none. Only angry plumes of thick gray-black clouds of smoke hung in the air for hours, visible even from outerspace.
The mighty towers of the World Trade Center had been humbled; reduced to nothing but a mountain of rubble.
And then the people began to realize: The world was no longer safe. Every sound, every rumble, every creak, was cause for alarm. There was a plane overhead. Was it going to crash into another building? There was a helicopter. Had it been hijacked? Two jets streaked by in the distance. Were they enemy or friend?
"I feel like I am going to vomit," said 22 year-old Heather West. " I take careful breaths, disturbingly aware that I am breathing in the smoke and the physical remains of what was the World Trade Center. I was crying earlier. I do not know what to think or to feel. I peek my head out of the window of my bedroom in this dilapidated Brooklyn loft, and glance towards the eerie twilight of Manhattan across the river. Greenish, ash-colored smoke still rises.”
"A feeling of disjunction and uncertainty eats at my mind, disables my actions and kills my volition to do anything. We have clearly been foiled and it is extremely unsettling. It is like having your guts pulled out, watching such a structure fall to its ruin, pompous and almost ridiculous in its enormity, a towering symbol of wealth, greed and competition--and now it is rubble and ash.
I have become virtually paralyzed. I thought I could do anything, now I am unemployed, unsure of my future, soon to be without a home and my city and country have just been attacked. I watched the twin towers crumble before my eyes. I am dumbfounded and do not know how to react.
Yesterday I ventured into midtown to use a copy center and was struck by the silence. Some people stood on the edge of the sidewalk, pointing downtown towards the disaster site. All movement stopped for a moment as screaming sirens and a pack of squad cars approached, then disappeared down the gaping street. My heart raced for a moment and I joined the other bystanders to stare at the procession and wonder where they were going and what had happened. Anxiety was in the air. There was just too much space. The warm blanket of security has been ripped off our nation and we are left stark and feeling cold.
I returned home, almost speed walking to the train. Burly NYPD officers awaited inside the stop, covering the entrances and leaning against the tunnel supports. Their presence incited more fear and worry than comfort and security. Inside the train I look at the faces crowding the car. Many heads were just fixated on the ground, despondent and speechless. We are afraid."
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani publicly urged New Yorkers to stay calm and stay put, but, "If you're south of Canal Street, get out," he warned. "Just walk north."
Thousands of dazed New Yorkers did not need a warning. A massive exodus was taking place and citizens sought to flee Manhattan by any means possible: by boat, by foot, by offering cab drivers a thousand dollars for a 20 mile ride.
Bridges and highways were closed to all but emergency vehicles. In parts of the city, the subway system was shut down. The streets became gridlocked, and motorists abandoned their stranded vehicles, joining the frantic exodus.
According to one onlooker, who boarded a ferry for safety: "As the boat pulled away from Manhattan, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It looked like the entire downtown section of Manhattan was on fire, because there was just a massive tower of smoke rising from the ashes."
Most of those who left the city that afternoon, like Lot's wife, they couldn't help but look back at the billows of smoke rising from where the trade center once stood.
And, like Lot's wife, their bodies had been covered with ash, and they looked as if their bodies had been consumed by soot.
For the next 12 hours, a steady stream of ferries and tugboats would disgorge the "walking wounded" and those luckily enough to escape injury, onto the shores of New Jersey's Liberty State Park.
"Every 10 minutes another boat with 100 to 150 people on it pulls up," said Mayor Glenn Cunningham.
By early afternoon, the downtown area was cordoned off; guarded by 2000 National Guardsmen and State Police called up by New York Governor Pataki.
Over 50,000 people worked at the World Trade Center, and 10,000 in each tower alone. Thousands of people have been severely injured and thousands more are presumed dead, buried beneath the tons of debris.
Marsh & McLennan, an insurance brokerage firm, reported that 1,200 of its 1,700 employees were unaccounted for. Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond firm, said 730 people of its 1,000-person staff were missing,
After the second tower collapsed, more cell phones began to ring. 911 operators began receiving dozens of calls from people buried and trapped in the debris. Brian Jones, a 911 operator reported that "one man said he was still trapped under the World Trade Center and said he was there along with two New York City sergeants."
“There are people that are still alive,” New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani reported. “We’ll be trying to recover as many people as possible and trying to clean up the horrible mess made by this.”
Firefighters began to organize yet another massive rescue effort, and set up a command post in 7 World Trade Center.
Rescue workers armed with shovels, spades, halogens, and pickaxes again began to search for survivors and to recover bodies. Cranes 120 feet tall and bulldozers by the dozens were brought in to clear the debris. New York Governor George Pataki mobilized the National Guard to help.
The Federal Health and Human Services Department activated a national medical emergency system in an attempt to mobilize 7,000 doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other medical personnel and rush them to the scene of chaos and carnage.
The National Association of Community Blood Centers sent 15,000 pints of blood to the city. American citizens began lining up at blood centers all across the United States.
“There are a lot of burn victims,” a Red Cross spokeswoman said. “They’ll need platelets, plasma and red blood cells. That’s why it’s so important for people to give blood.”
Over a thousand volunteers with medical or nursing experience formed rescue medical crews to provide immediate care for the injured.
And thousands of injured were taken to hospitals and medical facilities. Over 2,000 injured people had been evaluated at a mobile hospital set up at Liberty State Park alone. Casualties were being treated at hospitals as far south as Toms River. Many had suffered crushing injuries, and severe and profound burns.
But there was hope that thousands more could be buried alive beneath the rubble.
Dogs trained to sniff out life were brought in.
These dogs were essential to a rescue and recovery operation so massive in scale.
Dogs are extremely social animals who rely on a considerable degree of sounds and body movements to communicate. Dogs do more than simply smile, growl and kiss, so as to indicate their intentions or feelings. It is through body language that they can communicate even the possibility that there may be life hidden beneath a mountain of debris. When they are positive, they will begin to dig.
Moreover, like human beings who for the last half million years up until the present, have spent at least a third of their life engage in cooperate hunting, dogs and wolves are also essentially group hunters. Dogs are useful not only to hunters, but to herdsman, farmers, and modern humans as protector, loyal friend, and for searching for and rescuing humans.
Hundreds of dogs were brought to New York the evening of September 11, 2001. And these dogs and their handlers immediately began sifting through the rubble, sniffing and searching for sparks of life. It is a dangerous job. Many dogs are injured. Some are crushed by shifting debris. Their paws are cut, feet are injured, and many get depressed by the unending smell of death.
Rescue dogs love humans. It gives them as much joy as their human counterpart to find and rescue a human being. And they eagerly go about their work, risking their own lives, and sometimes losing their lives in the service of human beings.
That evening, one dog fell 100 feet. He had to be shot to death by his handler. Another fell 50 feet, and suffered the same fate.
"Wuss" a 70-pound Beligan Malinois rescue dog owned by Chris Christensten after entering a small jagged passage beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center was enveloped in a cloud of dust and could no longer breath. Chris reeled him in, he was on a 15 foot leash. "He had enaled a lot of dust. He couldn't breath. His tongue was turning purple. I tried to give hm oxygen... but Wuss went into shock..."
Yet even when injured, even when totally exhausted, many of the dogs and their handlers push on. The handlers are usually more worried about their dogs than themselves, but on this night, both put themselves at risk, in order to save lives.
"I'm going till I can't go no more, till the dog can't go no more," said Joaquin Guerrero, a K-9 officer.
Likewise, Frank Coughlin, No. 5's captain, had no intention of giving up. "We'll have members at that scene until we bring all our guys home," Coughlin said.
When the dog sniffs out signs of life, they start digging, often tearing away at their paws. But on this night, there is little digging.
Rescue workers were warned that they could expect to find few survivors and find hundreds if not thousands of dead bodies. Police were forced to establish an 185,000 square-foot temporary morgue on a Hudson River pier.
“I lost count of all the dead people I saw,” said firefighter Rudy Weindler, who spent nearly 12 hours trying to find survivors. “It is absolutely worse than you could ever imagine.”
Hundreds more would die, trapped beneath the rubble, as they waited in vain to be rescued. But the heat of the fires made rescue impossible.
Even late that night, September 11, 2001, numerous fires were burning amid the disaster area. Temperatures in some areas were above 1,500 degrees, due to the burning pools of jet fuel which were everywhere among the rubble.
The streets around where the World Trade Center once stood, were thick with broken vehicles and the remnants of buildings squashed, as if an asteroid had landed on them.
The 1,350-foot-tall World Trade Center Towers, one of the tallest buildings in the United States, and the pride of New York, had been reduced to rubble.
But other buildings had been damaged and were burning too. And people lived and worked in those buildings. Many of them had been injured and killed.
"There are so many other buildings that are partially destroyed and near collapse," said firefighter Weindler. "There are a lot of fires still burning."
The air reeked of jet fuel and burning rubber. Crushed and burned-out cars and buses clogged the streets, and there were occasional explosions as cars blew up, one by one.
And then, just a few minutes after 5 p.m., yet another burning building, 7 World Trade Center, collapsed. It had become the temporary headquarters for the city's emergency command center. Its collapse was sudden and completely unexpected. The building began to teeter, the windows started popping out, and then it just collapsed, killing William Feehan, the First Deputy Fire Commissioner, and Peter Ganci, the fire department's Chief of Department.
Again, rescuers tore at the rubble to free their friends and colleagues. But instead they found only death.
Heavy cranes lifted and moved aside concrete blocks and 40 foot steel beams that were impaled in the sidewalks.
And still they searched, hoping to find survivors. “There are people still alive in there,” one firefighter said. “There’s got to be."
But search as they might, they found death and more death.
“There’s part of a body over there,” one fireman said pointing at a jumble of twisted beams. "And over there. Body parts. Pieces. There are no signs of life. None. Everybody is dead. There is no way they could live through that. It's only going to be bodies coming out.”
Yes, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to survive the fires, lying beneath the crush of thousands of pounds of concrete and steel.
Yet, some survived.
A Port Authority officer who had been on the 80th floor, actually rode the building as it collapsed, sliding a thousand feet down. He survived beneath the rubble in an air pocket which let him breathe. He suffered only a broken leg.
A miracle perhaps. But miracles do happen. A police officer was found beneath the twisted steel girders and a thousand tons of concrete and twisted steel. He had ridden the collapse all the way down from the 86th floor. They found him at 1 a.m. and a call went out for a surgeon. They would have to amputate one leg to free him, and then, another miracle, they managed to extricate and save his left leg.
But even those who managed to survive beneath the rubble often die over the following days- of shock, severe burns, loss of blood, suffocation, organ damage, and broken hearts. That evening, refrigeration trucks began to arrive to handle the scores of bodies expected to be exhumed.
The Bucket Brigades
The search for bodies would continue for days. As described by James Croak: "Spread out across the debris field are bucket brigades, serpentine chains of a two hundred people each firemen, cops, military lines meandering up and down to where the dig is taking place. The entire site is being excavated into five gallon pails which are hand passed to dump trucks. Not a finger will be lost. Each dig has a cadaver dog, the dog shows us where to dig and then a small hole is made. In goes a TV camera with a listening device and everybody yells to be quiet. Generators go off and everyone stands still. After four days there is no more sound so the digging and cutting begins. When they find a body they yell ‘body coming’ and an adjacent brigade climbs across the wreckage to form an opposing line. The body is then passed in a stretcher between the lines. If it is a fireman, his hat is placed atop him and the stretcher is carried, not passed. Actually we "pass" the pall bearers because there is no walking.
My first body was a fireman. His hat told me what had happened to him. Crushed, burned, shattered, it looked to have been brought up from the sea, a civil war relic. My second body was a young girl, petite, in shape. ‘I can't take this,’ I thought, and considered running. Thankfully we didn't have another [body] for an hour or so. Periodically the line would call "we need paint," meaning they found a body too deep to dig for at this time, so the area is sprayed red so we can find him later. Several times we passed a body the size of a basket ball. If the wreckage shifts, a Klaxon blows twice telling everyone to run, which we do. A minute later they all run back, me still shaking. The next body was in a fetal position. She must have lived awhile, I thought, and died of exposure with a billion tons of mess on top of her, scared beyond understanding. In total we found 27 bodies and carried out 9.
You think there are no heroes in America? I saw a lanky blond that could have modeled Chanel, tie a rope around her ankle, grab a stethoscope and dive head first down a debris hole that would have shredded a raccoon. I saw firemen so deep into the rubble their flashlights were mistaken for fire. The firemen in general were fearless, shrugging their shoulders at the obvious danger of it all.
But missing from the scene was any talk of how it got like this, why it came down, what should be done about it. Nothing, not a peep. I suspect that it was a kind of collective shame for not having protected us from this."
After the bombing of the World Trade Center...the city was a ghost town. From the distance, one can still see the smoke rising
from the wreckage. Passing by Ground Zero, an empty shell of the steel structure's trademark design, stands tilted over several stories of burnt steel and ruin. Downtown Manhattan, notorious for its traffic jams and crowds of people, looked like it had been reverted back to the 19th or early 20th Century. The streets were empty and eerily silent.
All of lower Manhattan, the graveyard of thousands murdered by terrorists, was considered a “crime scene.” Airports were closed. Trains and ferries weren’t running. Bridges and tunnels were blocked. All ways into and out of the area were sealed off. Some walked for three hours, for eight miles, back to their homes. Happy just to be alive, they didn’t notice. A city so accustomed to mobility, suddenly found itself paralyzed.
That was the first day.
After September 11, New York was a different town.
“Everyone’s devastated.” said Detective Lisa Guerrero, a New York Police Department spokeswoman. “It’s the most horrific scene in my whole life,” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.
In the first few days after the tragedy, the air still smelled like an electrical fire, even miles away.
This smell greeted people as they awakened, making them remember the devastation on what otherwise, almost felt like a beautiful morning.
Other residents in Brooklyn found charred pieces of paper, discarded memos and spreadsheets, that had blown across the river and into their backyards.
At first, authorities were stringent against allowing anyone to return down to the area, and New York found itself with a new and unique case of homelessness. In tears, residents pleaded with police to allow them to get just a few things, to pick up photographs, a child’s favorite toy or security blanket. Under strict orders and the threat of national security, no exceptions could be allowed. The area was to be cleared of all civilians.
When the area was first reopened to residents, they were given five minutes by an accompanying guard, to gather up possessions and belongings that some residents had acquired in their homes for ten, twenty years. Residents were only allowed access to their homes in downtown, providing the building had been cleared for safety concerns. Police and state troopers checked identification of residents vigilantly for proof of address.
Some residents are being permitted to move back into their homes. But they do not want to live there anymore. Many only want their family photographs, their keepsakes. Then, they close the doors to their apartments, intending never to return again. One banker, who lived nearby the Trade Center, said, “I don’t want to live here anymore. You’ve got a graveyard right across the street!”
Amy Strassler, 35, a social studies teacher at the High School for Leadership and Public Service on Trinity Place, was planning to move with her family to Liberty Street. Because of the World Trade Center attacks, she, her husband Matthew Goldstein, and their 22-month twin sons Trevor and William, are homeless. Although they have been staying with friends and family, uncertain of when they will be allowed to move in, Strassler said, “You don’t have anything to be angry or sad about when the people close to you are still alive.” Amy and Matthew were finally able to access their new co-op, which was entirely covered with dust from the attacks. “There are so many people to be sorry about. Living out of suitcase for six to eight weeks is nothing compared to what has happened,” Matthew Goldstein told the Daily News. Amy and Matthew use their cell phones to stay in touch.
Monika Caha, a chef who resided in the downtown area for more than 15 years, told the New York Times, "Most people think of the area as a place for business and don't realize that there were thousands of people who've been living down here. For the last week we have basically been homeless and invisible”
"You get attached,” she explained. "I walked through the World Trade Center two or three times a day, went to the Gap and bought my chocolate truffles there, went to the movies there," she said. "If I think about it, I could just cry."
"I just can't go back there. I'm not moving back there.”
People’s daily routines were still greatly affected. Once effortless tasks like picking up prescriptions from the drug store, buying bread and milk – in short supply, became missions. Downtown Manhattan was experiencing the effects of war.
But gradually, New Yorkers have slowly begun picking up the pieces of their lives.
The men and women wearing suits, ready for business could be found on Wall Street. But New York City is very much a different town. People were wearing face masks to work, shielding themselves from the particle-filled and putrid smelling air emanating from Ground Zero, two blocks away. National Guardsmen -- armed soldiers with machine guns, garbed in camouflage green, guarded the Ground Zero site One soldier, Sgt. Mitchel Visintin, who was manning a 60-mm machine gun atop a Hum-vee, told a New York paper, “it’s just a presence, we’re not going to use it on anyone. We’re all armed and we’re here to make everyone secure.”
Police officers were noticeable on every corner directing traffic and pedestrians. Bomb scares abounded. Shortly after the World Trade Center's collapse, the Empire State Building was evacuated. Grand Central Station – a major hub of transportation, as well as other train stations, were being threatened. Whole neighborhoods and busy streets were cleared out. According to Rudolph Giuliani, whom David Letterman hailed as courageous, New York, which gets about seven legitimate bomb threats a day, was getting about a hundred.
Frozen mass transportation was now only delayed. The subway lines running below the World Trade Center, as well as the New Jersey Path Train, were not running downtown. Although the area has been opened to pedestrians, it is still inaccessible to most vehicular traffic and inconvenient by most mass transportation.
Everyone was affected one way or another. Whether he or she lost a loved one in the tragedy, or had to alter a commute to work, or who knew someone who had been touched by loss.
“I won’t let it get me down,” Milton Fuller, Senior Vice President of Insurance at Morgan Stanley, told the Daily News. Fuller was working at the World Trade Center at the time of the first plane crash, and was also there for the first bombing in 1993. “What I learned from the first time was that if you get too mesmerized by the danger, then you’ll change your life and it will probably be worse. You don’t want to live life affected by fear. Then you’ll be yielding to the terrorist mentality.”
But some couldn’t help but experience fear, even in areas far away from New York.
In Los Angeles, Dennison Samaroo, an actor and makeup artist, had been stocking up on survival supplies. “I don’t want to die because there’s poison in my tap water when maybe – if I have my own water supply for a while – I can live. I can wait until the tap water clears or until I can travel elsewhere.” He told the Los Angeles Times News Service, that this was not paranoia. “It’s about preparedness, not paranoia. It was about learning to cope with a new reality.”
Renee Evans, 57, was stockpiling canned goods and water in her apartment in West Hollywood, California. She said, “I am terrified. It’s all really scary. I’m putting up canned goods and water ‘cause I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. They could mess with our food, our water supply. We’d be sitting ducks. I haven’t been sleeping too much. I’ve been watching, praying, and trying to figure out what we can do.”
Others across the country and in part of New York like Long Island, were buying shot guns. Army and navy surplus stores found themselves selling out of survival kits, gas masks, and containment suits.
New Yorkers, meanwhile, have the additional task of enduring a tragedy that has struck in their own home.
New Yorkers, known for their resilience, will perhaps never be known again for their rudeness, or for being inconsiderate.
The attitude in New York has changed. It was okay for New Yorkers to drop their trademark brand of cynicism and nonchalance for patriotism. They brandished the American flag proudly on their clothing, lined West Street to cheer emergency rescue workers in ambulances as they zoomed by, thought twice about cutting off other cars or honking their horns in city traffic.
People called old friends, ex-lovers, acquaintances to see if they were okay. New Yorkers took in displaced friends, sometimes even strangers, into their homes.
Generosity was in excess. The Jacob Javits Convention Center became Volunteer Headquarters. Lines snaked around the block while New Yorkers waited for more than two hours to fill out a form, offering any assistance that was needed. Finally, people had to be turned away. Supplies were overstocked. The blood supply could not contain any more donations.
New Yorkers have newfound appreciation for their mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. A beacon of courage, his constituents and the rest of America are looking towards him for guidance, old grudges forgotten.
Makeshift memorials arose spontaneously on street corners, store windows, on lamp posts of busy intersections and in New York City’s outer boroughs such as Brooklyn and Queens, the sentiment was no less patriotic. Signs and posters scrawled in marker had such messages as “God Bless America” and “We Will Remember”. In front of a Staten Island Waterfront, which gave a clear and unobstructed view of Manhattan island, flowers, flags, and letters were sympathy cards -- laid before the disfigured New York skyline.
Those who have lost loved ones take solace in these memorials – something tangible as they wait and hope to hear news of a rescue, and at worst, a recovery. Wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends made rounds at the hospital, holding up photos and flyers with pictures of their loved ones. Some are still unwilling to give up hope.
Firehouses became the destination of pilgrimages, as people mournfully laid flowers and candles in front and wrote messages in journals, thanking these men who so bravely gave their life in for the chance of saving others. At the somber promotion ceremony held to replace the Fire Department’s top officers, who were killed in the World Trade Center’s collapse, Rudolph Giuliani said, “Life is going to go on, both the life of the city and the life of the department. We have very important work to do today, tomorrow, and the months and the years ahead.”
“Without courage, nothing else can really happen. And there is no better example, none, so better example of courage than the Fire Department of the City of New York...something special about the way you overcome your fear, put your lives at work, make a conscious choice to do that in order to save other human beings. It’s the most profound form of human love that we see displayed over and over again in our city.”
Union Square has been transformed into the city's largest memorial, with candles blazing on the edges of every walkway through the park. Singers gathered a crowd, leading them in mournful and hopeful song. A piece of the rubble was brought up to the park by two survivors who evacuated the area. A student from NYU began writing poetry and posted it to the proof of wreckage. It spawned a flurry of hand-written messages, photographs, pictures of the missing, which soon wall-papered the park. There were also anti-war protesters holding overnight vigils in the park. Scruffy, marijuana smoking teens and 20-somethings who were normally found on Washington Square Park down in the Village, had made their way up here, along with a gradual migration of New York City’s homeless into the area. This park, as with most New York parks, were usually vigilantly protected against overnight stays as part of Mayor Giuliani’s “quality of life” program.
A man sat on a crate, setting out a makeshift desk in front of him, and began spray painting his rendition of the New York Skyline, nostalgically etched in were the Twin Towers. “I’ve run out of black,” he said apologetically to the crowd. “I’ll have to use purple” to paint the nighttime background. Someone interested in purchasing one made the man promise to save him a copy. “I’ll come by during my lunchtime at work tomorrow.”
Others were interested in such mementos. Shops catering to tourists, found native New Yorkers buying American flags. Postcards of the World Trade Center and the impressive Manhattan skyline, as we will always remember it, sold out from every souvenir shop. A print shop in Greenwich Village, which formerly sold framed photographs of the skyline for $60, now charged $240 for the same item. was okay for New Yorkers to drop their trademark brand of cynicism and nonchalance for patriotism.
Expressions of sorrow, patriotism, and anger adorned every walls and windows all over New York City. Flags flew at half staff. They could also be seen in nearly very store window, waving from cars and worn by joggers and on backpacks.
Some venues have seen a drop in attendance. Others have seen a rise. Broadway shows were empty, and areas regularly bustling with tourists, such as Times Square, was brimming with bright lights, but fewer crowds to appreciate them. At a neighborhood Starbucks, theater producers were pouring over figures worriedly. “It doesn’t look good,” one said. “This is the bleakest moment in Broadway history, and we all have to get through it,” Cameron Mackintosh, producer of such hits as Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, said. Meanwhile, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and other houses of worship, found themselves filled to capacity. People, feeling helpless to do anything else, could at least offer their prayers.
Helicopters and fighter jets still roaring overhead, patrolling the airspace. Sirens from ambulances and police cars will never sound the same.
New Yorkers have been buying less, drinking less, dressing less extravagantly. Nightlife, the staple of New York is charged with a different atmosphere of muted helplessness. People go to it for escape and relief, not so much to look for a good time. Many events scheduled to take place, have been canceled. Those that did not lose someone directly still feel guilty about having a good time and indulging in excess—sentiments New York was once, no stranger to. All entertainment industries have been hit hard. So have fashion and the restaurant business. Then there are the accounts of violence against Arab Americans. Mosques are being vandalized; Muslims are afraid to attend to worship. They live in fear of being attacked. In Springfield, Massachusetts, neighbors called the FBI to report the “suspicious departure” of Hadim H. Sorkati and his roommates, all Muslim men in their 20s and 30s, living in an apartment building on Pearl Street. When the mail began piling up, someone began opening the letters, finding notices from Alamo Rent-A-Car, letters from the Immigration and Naturalization Services, and notices of large sums of money being transferred from bank accounts. The FBI and local police sealed off the building, and the bomb squad began searching the apartment. The suspicions proved to be unfounded, and after questioning Sorkati and a roommate for 45 minutes, the men were let go. There are reports coming from all areas of the United States of assaults and threats on Arab Americans and harassment of businesses owned by Muslims living in the United States. Terrorism, it seems, had attacked in more ways than one.
Some memorials will never have a body to lay to rest.
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