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World Trade Center and Pentagon attacked on Sept. 11, 2001

Thousands are dead and injured as hijacked U.S. airliners ram targets. The World Trade Towers are brought down, leaving Manhattan in chaos. President Bush puts the military on highest alert, closes borders and vows to 'find those responsible.'

September 12, 2001|Matea Gold and Maggie Farley | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

There were reports of an explosion right before the tower fell, then a strange sucking sound, and finally the sound of floors collapsing. Then came a huge surge of air, followed by a vast cloud of dirt, smoke, dust, paper and debris. Windows shattered. People screamed and dived for cover.

"I heard the largest, loudest collective scream I've ever heard," said Melissa Easton, who was watching from the roof of her Chinatown apartment building about 20 blocks away.

Not long afterward, at 10:30 a.m., the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

The top of the building exploded with smoke and dust. There were no flames, just an explosion of debris, and then more vast clouds swept down to the streets. People were knocked to the ground on their faces as they ran from the building.

Hyman Brown, a University of Colorado civil engineering professor and the construction manager for the World Trade Center, said that flames fueled by thousands of gallons of aviation fuel melted the towers' steel supports.

"This building would have stood had a plane or a force caused by a plane smashed into it," he said. "But steel melts, and 24,000 gallons of aviation fluid melted the steel. Nothing is designed or will be designed to withstand that fire."

In addition to the more than 200 missing firefighters, police officials said nearly 100 of their officers were similarly unaccounted for. Brian Stark, a former Navy paramedic who assisted rescuers, said paramedics had been told that hundreds of police officers and firefighters were missing from the ranks of those sent in to respond to the first crash.

Giuliani said the 2,100 injured included 1,500 "walking wounded" who were taken by boat to New Jersey, and 600 others who were taken to New York hospitals. It could take weeks to dig through the rubble for victims. "I have a sense it's a horrendous number of lives lost," Giuliani said. "Right now we have to focus on saving as many lives as possible."

Hundreds of volunteers and medical workers converged on triage centers, offering help and blood. So many people lined up to donate blood that many were turned away.

The city took on the eerie hush of a metropolis under siege. With public transportation shut down and major bridges and tunnels closed to traffic, walking became the only way to get anywhere. Thousands clogged Manhattan bridges, leaving the city on foot. Throughout the metropolitan area, people stunned by the day's events strolled about as if in a daze.

More than nine hours after the attack, an annex in the complex--7 World Trade Center--continued to burn. At 5:20 p.m., that building collapsed. Blocks away, crowds roared with astonishment.

"People stared open-mouthed and were in shock," said bystander Russ Baker.

Jesus Soriano Jr., 34, of Brooklyn, said he was there when the twin towers fell.

"I felt the first building collapse. I saw the second tower collapse," Soriano said. "It collapsed from the outside in."

"Those terrorists are real cowards," he said.

Tyler Catalana, 23, a resident of Mill Valley, Calif., who is studying architecture in New York, said he saw the north tower collapse into itself.

"It looked like a nuclear war," he said.

Catalana said that when the dust began to settle, "it looked like the surface of the moon."

Much of lower Manhattan was evacuated as officials feared potential gas leaks and falling debris could cause further casualties.

Like refugees fleeing a war-town nation, tens of thousands walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and along a nearby highway as they sought safety.

Some people wore paper masks to block out the dust. People gathered around cars listening to news over their radios. Others washed off the dust with the water from open fire hydrants.

Giuliani said the New York Stock Exchange was intact, but he doubted it would reopen today, because it was necessary to keep lower Manhattan clear for emergency vehicles. Public and parochial schools in the city were scheduled to be closed.

"New York is still here. The World Financial Center is still here," the mayor said. "We have undergone tremendous losses and we will grieve for them horribly. We are going to prevail."

Three large trucks arrived at the city morgue in the afternoon with extra supplies. A spokesman said that bodies were expected later.

Families searching for missing relatives were directed to an office where city employees took information. Extra medical examiners were summoned to the morgue.

The most severely burned were taken to a center at New York Presbyterian Hospital on Manhattan's upper East Side. Elective surgery at the hospital was canceled. Patients in the emergency room watched the disaster on television.

Tiffany Keeling, 32, of New Mexico was treated at Bellevue Hospital for smoke inhalation and head injuries. She said she was attending a training seminar for financial consultants on the 61st floor of the south tower of the trade center.

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