A towering inferno: ‘You could see people jumping from the upper floors’
NEW YORK, Sept. 11 — It was the scene of a nightmare: people on fire jumping in terror from the two World Trade Center towers just before the buildings collapsed in lower Manhattan, splinters of debris falling from the sky like surreal confetti, deadly smoke blackening the air and, in the aftermath of the devastation, a mass exodus of thousands of New Yorkers coated in white ash streaming on foot for hours across the city’s bridges.
JOE CRIMMINS, of Hoboken, N.J., was on the 43rd floor in the cafeteria of the World Trade Center tower hit by the first airplane.
“There was an explosion,” Crimmins said. “The building shook. Within seconds, you could see debris coming towards the window. So we just ran toward the emergency exit. It took about 20 minutes to a half hour to get out. The stairways were crowded and smoky. The lower 10 to 15 floors were filled with water, so we were walking through water as firemen were walking up. People were walking down who were burned — actually walking down with most of their bodies burned.”
Crimmins added: “We must have seen 10 or 15 people jumping out of the building. They looked like paper dolls they were so high up. [It’s] good to be alive.”
Mike Smith, a fire marshal from Queens, said: “Everyone was screaming, crying, running, cops, people, firefighters, everyone. A couple of marshals just picked me up and dragged me down the street.”
Smith recalled the scene as he sat by the fountain outside the Supreme Court building near the disaster shortly after the second tower collapsed.
Rob Chess, a trader at the Mercantile Exchange, said he was on the 85th floor of Tower One when the first plane crashed. “My boss was facing north and saw the plane,” he said. “I felt a big explosion. It was pitch dark, black. We didn’t know what was safe to do.” But he said he and some 25 fellow employees began to walk down the stairway in the building.
"It was relatively calm on the stairway," Chess said. He said he went to the Chambers Street subway station when he felt the ground shake as the tower collapsed nearby. Chess said he waited until the dust subsided somewhat and then "ran as hard as I could."
DAY THAT DIDN'T BEGIN
For some downtown workers, this was a day of work that never began.
"I just saw the building I work in come down," said businessman Gabriel Ioan, shaking in shock outside City Hall a cloud of smoke and ash from the World Trade Center behind him. "I just saw the top of Trade Two come down."
MSNBC.com producer Steve Johnson, standing about six blocks from the towers in lower Manhattan, was also an eyewitness to the collapse. "About five minutes before the tower fell you could see people jumping from the upper floors. I watched six either fall or jump ... The police rolled up [in] vans. Suddenly the top of [the tower] just shattered into tens of thousands of pieces. You could see the walls peel away. The whole thing just disappeared. Then the smoke came up. The cops started yelling, "Get back! Run! Get away!" I ran inside a hotel, and it went black outside because of the dust."
Nearby a crowd mobbed a man on a pay phone, screaming at him to get off the phone so that they could call relatives. Dust and dirt flew everywhere. Ash was 2 to 3 inches deep in places. People wandered dazed and terrified.
"I was in the World Financial Center looking out the window," said one woman. "I saw the first plane and then 15 minutes later saw the other plane just slam into the World Trade Center."
Firefighter Jimmy Grillo, with Ladder 24, had blood running down his face from an injury to his nose. Grillo was in the lobby of the World Trade Center after the first blast and when the second blast came, he was trapped in the debris. "We crawled in the debris toward the light…. There's a bunch of guys still trapped in there," Grillo told MSNBC.com's Johnson.
'PEOPLE SCREAMING ... DIVING FOR COVER'
Another eyewitness, AP newsman Dunstan Prial, described a strange sucking sound from the Trade Center buildings after the first building collapsed.
"Windows shattered. People were screaming and diving for cover. People walked around like ghosts, covered in dirt, weeping and wandering dazed."
"It sounded like a jet or rocket," said Eddie Gonzalez, a postal worker at a post office on West Broadway. "I looked up and saw a huge explosion. I didn't see the impact. I just saw the explosion."
Morning commuters heading into Manhattan were stranded as the Lincoln Tunnel was shut down to incoming traffic. Many left their cars and stood on the ramp leading to the tunnel, staring in disbelief at the thick cloud of smoke pouring from the top of the two buildings.
On the streets of Manhattan, people stood in groups talking quietly or watching on television at ground-level network studios.
Joan Goldstein, communications project leader for The Associated Press, was on a bus from New Jersey at about 8:50 a.m. when she saw "smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center building. We said, 'Oh, my God! The World Trade Center's on fire!"
Perhaps 10 minutes later, "All of a sudden, there was an orange plume, a huge explosion. It shot out the back of the building. Everybody on the bus was just moaning and gasping," said Goldstein, who wept and trembled as she spoke.
The plume was from the second plane, but she didn't see the plane because of the thick smoke.
She tried to call friends who work there, but couldn't get through.
"It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen in my life," said Goldstein.
At St. Vincents Hospital in Greenwich Village, people waited in long lines to give blood. They were taken according to blood type. Hundreds of donors — perhaps as many as a thousand — looked like a tapestry of New York citizenry.
"There are all kinds of people — young and old, black and white, students and professionals waiting to give blood," said Harry Barandes, a graduate student at New York University.
Ambulances continued to arrive intermittently. The shock on people's faces was shaken free only by the sirens that blared in the background. Meanwhile, volunteers wandered among those waiting in line, asking if anyone was hungry or thirsty.
"There are really kind citizens passing out food and water," said Barandes. "The outpouring of goodwill is amazing."
Further from the disaster scene in upper Manhattan signs went up that blood drives had begun. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also announced three main locations for blood donations (at 153 E. 53rd St., 150 Amsterdam Ave. and 310 E. 67th St.).
At the Citicorp building in midtown Manhattan, former tennis star Ilie Nastase, who had come to the city for the U.S. Open that just ended, gave blood with his girlfiend, Amalia Teodosescu. Nastase said he had never given blood before but was moved to do so by the immense tragedy. People were lined up around the block to give blood. It was so long that people were waiting for up to six hours to donate.
SURREAL SCENE, EERIE CALM
In Brooklyn, across the East River from Manhattan, "the situation is chaos," MSNBC.com producer Michelle Preli reported earlier in the day. "The Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge are just full of people covered in white ash. There's a huge smell of char in the air. People are walking with masks, with their shirts off. People trying to get out [of the area] any way. People are crying, watching in disbelief. [It's] total shock. It seems all the medical units, ambulances fire services from Brooklyn [have been called in]."
Although the city itself is in shock, it hasn't really reached uptown Manhattan yet. On the Upper West Side, where you could see police helicopters standing in the sky like sentinels along the Hudson River, it is all eerily calm.
"There are people eating in the restaurants," said Andras Szanto, a staff member at Columbia University. "It is a glorious sunny day — after a rainstorm of biblical proportions last night — and this perfect fall day makes it even more surreal.
"At first sight everything seems normal," Szanto continued. "Then you notice strangers hudddled around radios, students gazing at TVs in the cafes, lines at the bank for cash."
A sign on a Starbucks coffee shop says, "Due to the terrorist attack we are closed today."
"A homeless man is reciting the list of the day's unspeakable horrors," said Szanto. "There are small strange differences that translate the larger horror into minute changes: For the first time, for example, the majestic gates [protecting the campus] of Columbia University have been closed shut."
CROWDS STREAMING ON FOOT
Five hour after the towers collapsed people were still streaming on foot across all levels of the Manhattan Bridge as they left the disaster area.
"What was most amazing was how calm people were," said MSNBC.com's Preli, who had been in her car just blocks from the disaster as splinters of debris rained down looking oddly like confetti.
"Maybe everyone was just in shock. But the mass of the city, this huge population, had to get out of the city and they seemed to be doing it very matter of factly."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
NYC’s worst nightmare comes true
MSNBC's Martin Wolk was in the Trade Center when it was struck by hijacked planes, By Martin Wolk,
NEW YORK, Sept. 11 — I was in the World Trade Center when every New Yorker's worst nightmare came true. I was in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel, attending a conference by the National Association of Business Economists when the crystal chandeliers shook, there was a loud bang and the floor shook. Everyone ran out — there were people screaming everywhere. A commercial airliner had struck the 110-story building.
I WENT OUT THE side door. Initially I thought it was a car accident. Then I looked up and saw Tower One of the World Trade Center in flames. It was clear there were hundreds of casualties. Everyone was on cell phones.
I'd lost my cell phone and laptop computer when I ran out the building. I went over to the Hudson River.
After I called in to my editor from 3 World Trade Center across the street, there was another wave of panic and people were running everywhere.
I went outside and saw Tower Two had been hit, right about in the middle. For a while, I just stared and watched with the other survivors as the tower burned.
As I was watching, I heard a gasp and an "Oh no!" Someone had just jumped or fallen from the top of Tower One. I saw three more people fall from Tower One.
There were people injured on the street, probably hit by falling debris. I kept walking, looking for a phone.
Around 9:40 a.m. ET or so, there was another wave of rescue vehicles rushing downtown.
I talked to some people who saw the second plane hit Tower Two.
I was about a quarter of a mile away when I heard people scream. I looked back and saw Tower Two was gone, and the sky was filled with plumes of smoke.
I eventually made it up to Greenwich Village, where a man named John Roccosalva was kind enough to let me and other survivors use the telephone and get a glass of badly needed water in his tiny studio apartment.
Another man, Harvey Schonbrun, who works at the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, had been on the 78th floor of Tower One when the first plane hit. He said "everything went black, I was thrown to the floor." He said he had crawled to the hall and to the stairwell. Another man, Brian Conlon, was on the 37th floor. He was a survivor of the previous World Trade Center bombing. He said he was 15 flights down by the time the alarms began sounding.
I left the apartment and went to St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village about a half mile north of the Trade Center where the scene was one of barely controlled chaos. Police are asking for volunteers to direct traffic and move vehicles. Hundreds of people are lined up to donate blood. Hospital officials say they have taken 112 casualties, no fatalities. That, of course, is just one hospital of dozens or scores in the area.
St. Vincent's said they had taken in 184 casualties, and two had died. Several others were "gravely injured" by burns or smoke inhalation, a hospital spokesman he said. St. Vincent's is one of two major trauma hospital's handling the most severely injured victims.
More than 500 people lined up to donate blood outside the hospital. Finally, a phalanx of half-a-dozen city buses lined up to take them to another location where they could handle the blood donations.
Police and volunteers are directing traffic on every corner in this part of Lower Manhattan, and emergency vehicles of every kind are screaming by, six hours after the first attack. The blue sky is eerily quiet and empty, except for the occasional roar of a fighter jet overhead.
I can't describe what it feels like to look to the south from Greenwich Village and see blue sky where the two towers once stood. New Yorkers are in mourning, and I know many share the feeling in the pit of my stomach — like a part of our body has been ripped away.
And how do I describe a mass murder with so many hundreds of witnesses and survivors? I can only tell my story.
'There's a huge smell of char in the air. People are walking with masks, with their shirts off. People trying to get out [of the area] any way. People are crying, watching in disbelief. [It's] total shock.' — MICHELLE PRELI, MSNBC.com producer
'Windows shattered. People were screaming and diving for cover. People walked around like ghosts, covered in dirt, weeping and wandering dazed.— EDDIE GONZALEZ, postal worker
'Suddenly the top of [the tower] just shattered into tens of thousands of pieces. You could see the walls peel away. The whole thing just disappeared.'— STEVE JOHNSON, MSNBC producer who witnessed the collapse
'My window just blew out'----Sept. 11 — Robert Knowles, who was working in World Trade Center Tower One Tuesday morning, describes the attack to NBC's Tom Brokaw
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Wall Street paralyzed by catastrophe
Day of terror in N.Y., Washington
NYC's worst nightmare comes true
Alerts and closures follow attacks
Phones, Net slow but functioning
MSNBC Cover Page
A NATION REELS
• Evan Thomas: A new day of infamy
• Attacks spark exodus in U.S. capital
• Frantic call: ‘We are being hijacked’
• Paul Begala: A fortress breached
• Doctors across country on alert
• Alerts and closures follow attacks
Attacks spark an exodus in the capital
Washingtonians dazed as they leave offices; congressional leaders vow swift return to work
MSNBC STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 — In the hours after Tuesday’s terror attacks, Washington looked like a city under siege. The nation’s capital and neighboring Virginia and Maryland were under a state of emergency. But this was no Sarajevo, with refugees carrying their belongings on their backs. This was a metallic refugee caravan: Cars were stacked like dominoes, all trying to get out of the city.
SECURITY PERSONNEL wearing flak jackets and armed with M-16s stood watch at the entry to military facilities scattered throughout the city, watching every move. Secret Service agents toting machine guns directed civilians on the streets. F-16 military jets flew over the city on surveillance missions.
Outgoing highway arteries were at a standstill, with traffic jams backing up into residential neighborhoods. Authorities turned many roads into one-way routes to speed up the evacuation.
All federal buildings — including the White House and the Capitol — were ordered evacuated in the minutes and hours after a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.
In the middle of the Pentagon’s courtyard, at the center of the five-sided building, medical personnel dealt with the casualties.
"Bulls-eye," said one aid worker.
Robert Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association, said all medical facilities in the area were “on maximum alert."
At midday, local hospitals reported receiving 40 victims, with seven patients in critical condition admitted to one facility for treatment of burns.
At the Capitol, meanwhile, senators stood alongside office workers on the streets.
One senator, Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said Tuesday’s attacks amounted to a “second Pearl Harbor.”
"I'm asking myself if it can happen in America," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said outside the Capitol. "Obviously it can."
A young congressional aide asked a reporter on the street: “Where should I go? Where should I go? I just heard there was another explosion.” The aide was urged to keep walking away.
Congressional leaders were taken to a secure location, but some said they hoped to get back to work quickly.
“I think we should go back in session as quick as we can,” said Senate Foreign Relations chairman Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat. “They win when we are not seen. They win when we are not in session. They win when they do anything to change the way this great nation runs.”
Capitol police spokesman Dan Nichols said the goal was to reopen the building, whose dome is a symbol of democracy, as soon as possible, perhaps even by Tuesday night.
“There’s going to be extra security around the Capitol,” Nichols said. “Our goal is to return to business as usual as quickly as possible.”
PANIC AND CALM
About a quarter-million federal workers were sent home early as a result of the evacuations, officials said. Some Washingtonians were on the edge of panic.
“I’m totally freaked out. Hearing the plane going over my head was frightening,” Elissa Brainard, 29, said as she joined the 150-yard line to get her car from the parking garage.
Drivers ran red lights and sped across intersections, sending pedestrians scattering. Police near the White House tried to direct traffic, but a few blocks away chaos reigned, thwarting the efforts of emergency vehicles.
Wailing sirens from fire engines, police patrols and ambulances mingled with car horns, whistles and human cries.
“Everything is going crazy. People are getting so stressed out,” one office worker said.
Pedestrians hurried away from the federal quarter and clutched cellular telephones to their ears, desperately trying to reach loved ones. But cell-phone networks seemed to be disrupted, and people began to line up at public phones.
“I’m terrified. We tried to call on the cell phones, but they weren’t working,” office assistant Val Thornton said.
Thornton, whose commuter bus takes her past the Pentagon to her Virginia home, said she did not know how she would get out of the city.
Others seemed unfazed by the emergency.
When his building was evacuated, Roger Connor had been chairing a meeting of Christians, Jews and Muslims about how to help poor people in the United States. The group left the building — but Connor, struggling up a street on crutches, said he refused to be deterred by the attacks.
“Our original meeting place was close to the White House, so we had to evacuate, but we’re moving to a different office because our meeting is going to continue,” he said.
The Williams family from Atlanta said their tourist trip was continuing as planned.
“We are carrying on with our Washington sightseeing, just with a little extra caution,” Carl Williams said, standing alongside his wife and teen-age sons. “We’re headed to New York tomorrow, but we’re going to drive.”
MSNBC’s Elliot Zaret and Brock Meeks, as well as Reuters, contributed to this report.
‘Acts of war,’ president declares
Funds sought for ‘struggle of good versus evil’
Sept. 12 — As rescuers dug through the World Trade Center and Pentagon rubble on Wednesday, President Bush declared the terrorist attacks on the American symbols of power and commerce “acts of war” and asked Congress for emergency funding authority to spend whatever it takes to “protect our national security.”
CALLING IT “a different enemy than we have ever faced,” the president told reporters, “This battle will take time and resolve but make no mistake about it, we will win.”
He said he had asked Congress for the funding authority “so that we are prepared to spend whatever it takes to rescue victims, help the citizens of New York and Washington, and to protect our national security.”
“This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil,” he said, “but good will prevail.”
His comments echoed those of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said earlier Wednesday that the attacks amounted to a “war against civilization.”
Tuesday night, in a brief address televised from the Oval Office, Bush characterized the “despicable acts of terror” as “mass murder.” It was a stark acknowledgment of the likely toll of those killed in the worst terrorist strike in U.S. history.
“Thousands of lives were suddenly ended,” Bush said solemnly, when hijacked jetliners slammed into the trade center’s twin towers and the Pentagon.
A FEW RESCUES OVERNIGHT
In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told NBC’s “Today” show that two police officers were rescued overnight, having contacted rescuers by cell phone. Attempts were being made to save a third person, he said.
New York firefighter Rudy Weindler spent nearly 12 hours trying to find survivors overnight and found four — three people in the rubble and a pregnant woman sitting on a curb.
But hundreds, if not thousands, are feared dead. “I lost count of all the dead people I saw,” Weindler said. “It is absolutely worse than you could ever imagine.”
The four hijacked jetliners alone carried a total of 266 passengers and crew.
FLORIDA HOME SEARCHED
In the hunt for those responsible, the FBI obtained a warrant to search the South Florida home of a man listed on the manifest of one of the hijacked planes, NBC News learned.
Authorities also uncovered possible clues in a rented car at Boston’s Logan International Airport, where two of the deadly flights originated.
MSNBC.com confirmed reports that authorities had seized a car at Logan airport that contained Arabic-language flight training manuals. Five Arab men, a trained pilot among them, were identified as suspects. At least one of those men flew to Logan on Tuesday from Portland, Maine.
The luggage of one of the men who flew to the airport Tuesday didn’t make his scheduled connection. The Boston Globe reported the luggage contained a copy of the Koran, an instructional video on flying commercial airliners and a fuel consumption calculator.
The Boston Herald said passengers making cell phone calls from one or more of the hijacked planes had reported the hijackers had used plastic knives to stab flight attendants and take control.
THE HUMAN TOLL
The first attack occurred before most of the 50,000 people who worked at the World Trade Center had arrived. But officials estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 people were in the buildings when the first plane crashed. Many fled, rushing down dozens of flights of stairs before the second jet hit and the towers collapsed.
Some 400 firefighters were working at the center when the first tower collapsed, and 200 of those men and women were missing as of Wednesday morning, Giuliani said. Some 50 police were also feared buried under rubble.
At the Pentagon, where 20,000 people work, NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski said fire officials had put the number of dead at about 800, including the 64 people on the hijacked plane that rammed the complex. Wednesday morning, firefighters struggled against fires still burning there.
SHOCK WAVES ACROSS NATION
The attacks — the three assaults in New York and Washington and a failed fourth strike that ended when a jetliner crashed into a field near Pittsburgh — snarled the nation’s government, transportation and finances and bruised its sense of security:
The White House, the U.S. Capitol and federal buildings in and around Washington were evacuated for hours.
President Bush placed U.S. military forces around on the world on ThreatCon Delta, the highest possible state of alert. Military police in combat fatigues guarded streets in the nation’s capital and patrolled in armored vehicles.
The Navy said the aircraft carrier USS George Washington was in position Wednesday off the coast of New York, joining the destroyers USS Ross and USS Ramage and the cruiser USS Vella Gulf. The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which had just left the Persian Gulf, was ordered to remain in the Indian Ocean.
For the first time ever, the Federal Aviation Administration closed all U.S. airports, shutting down air traffic until noon ET Wednesday at the earliest. “Travelers will see increased security measures at our airports, train stations and other key sites,” Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said in a statement. “Airport curbside luggage check-in will no longer be allowed. There will be more security officers, random identification checks."
Financial markets also closed and were to remain closed Wednesday.
All Major League Baseball games were postponed Tuesday, a decision extended through at least Wednesday. Many other sporting events were postponed as well.
Large buildings across the nation — shopping malls, skyscrapers, transportation centers, tourist sites — were closed.
U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, some of which had been closed earlier in the day, were reopened late Tuesday afternoon. But security along the borders remained extremely tight.
The FBI set up a Web site where people could report any tips or other information: www.ifccfbi.gov. Intelligence officials told NBC News they were especially eager to recover any video tourists may have been shooting before and during the attacks.
The Justice Department’s Office of Victims of Crime established a hot line for families seeking information about victims and survivors. The number is (800) 331-0075.
Gasoline prices began soaring across the nation within hours of the attacks. Prices at stations in Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri were reported to have hit as high as $5 a gallon by early evening.
EARLY MORNING CHAOS
The 1,250-foot-tall towers, which survived a terrorist bombing in a basement parking garage in 1993, were reduced to a pile of stone and steel about five stories high.
The stunning attacks began at 8:45 a.m. ET, just as thousands of people were streaming to work in lower Manhattan. American Airlines Flight 11, from Boston to Los Angeles, slammed into the north tower of the 110-story World Trade Center. Fires blazed, and smoke billowed out of the skyscrapers, one of two that had famously dominated Manhattan’s skyline.
At 9:03 a.m., as terrified occupants were still trying to flee the blazing north tower, United Air Lines Flight 175, also flying from Boston to Los Angeles, rammed into the south tower. Broadcast cameras already watching the scene taped the second plane as it exploded in a huge fireball.
MSNBC.com reporter Martin Wolk, who was inside one of the towers, said the lights flickered and there was a loud bang. People panicked and started to flee the building.
At 9:43 a.m., American Flight 77, flying from Dulles Airport outside Washington to Los Angeles, crashed into the west side of the Pentagon in Washington’s Virginia suburbs.
Seven minutes later, the south tower of the Trade Center collapsed. Enormous plumes of choking gray smoke and debris poured through packed narrow streets rimmed by Manhattan’s enormous skyscrapers.
The north tower disintegrated at 10:29 a.m., and lower Manhattan was evacuated.
FOURTH ATTEMPT FAILS
Meanwhile, sometime around 10 a.m., United Flight 93, headed to San Francisco from Newark, N.J., crashed into a field about 80 miles from Pittsburgh.
An emergency dispatcher in Westmoreland County, Pa., received a cell phone call at 9:58 a.m. from a man who said he was a passenger locked in the airplane’s bathroom, said dispatch supervisor Glenn Cramer.
“We are being hijacked. We are being hijacked!” Cramer quoted the man as saying. “He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane, and we lost contact with him.”
Officials originally presumed the hijackers were trying to crash the jet into Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. But Attorney General John Ashcroft later told members of Congress that the plane was believed to have been turning toward Washington.
The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that a passenger on Flight 93, Tom Burnett, called his wife and indicated that he and other passengers were about to try to overpower the hijackers.
Burnett told his wife that somebody on the plane had been stabbed, said the Rev. Frank Colacicco, of St. Isidore’s Church in Danville, Fla. “We’re all gonna die, but three of us are going to do something,” Burnett told his wife, according to Colacicco. He added: “I love you, honey,” before the call ended.
Hours later, at 5:25 p.m. — just as overwhelmed rescuers were beginning to breathe a sigh of relief that the worst was over — a third, smaller tower of the trade center collapsed in flames.
Although the tower had been evacuated of its everyday occupants, the complex was still swarming with rescue crews and investigators. Horrified emergency officials temporarily halted the rescue effort as a result.
‘CREDIBLE THREATS’ TO BUSH
Military and Secret Service officials kept Bush away from Washington all afternoon Tuesday because of what presidential counselor Karl Rove told Newsweek’s Howard Fineman were “credible threats” against the president.
In the meantime, Bush, who had been in Florida discussing education, hopscotched the country in Air Force One.
He stopped first at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, La., and then flew on to Offutt Air Force base outside Omaha, Neb., where he was taken to an underground bunker at U.S. Strategic Command headquarters.
In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney and first lady Laura Bush were whisked away to secure locations.
PRIME SUSPECT: BIN LADEN
Although no one has claimed responsibility, suspicion focused onOsama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi militant harbored by Afghanistan. He is suspected in previous attacks on U.S. interests, among them the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and last year’s bombing of a U.S. Navy ship in Yemen.
On Wednesday, a bin Laden aide told a Palestinian journalist that bin Laden congratulated the people who carried out the strikes, but denied he was involved.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban condemned the attacks and denied that bin Laden was behind them. The sophistication of the coordinated assault required the expertise of a government, the Taliban said.
But a senior U.S. official told NBC News’ Robert Windrem late Tuesday that information developed left officials “90 percent certain” that bin Laden’s organization was responsible. “This is not just surmise,” the official said. “This is new information.”
A federal law enforcement official told NBC News that the name of a passenger on one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center immediately triggered alarms at the FBI.
The FBI obtained a warrant to search the “former home” of the man, who lived in Broward County, and was searching for possible evidence, the official said. MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson, Miguel Llanos and Molly Masland; NBC’s Robert Hager, Jim Popkin and Mike Viqueira; and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Massive rescue effort begins
Doctors across country on alert; blood donors needed in coming days
NEW YORK, Sept. 11 — After the initial horror and the nightmarish scenes of people jumping from buildings, the country braced itself for more pain: digging through the rubble for the dead and injured in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in Washington and the World Trade Center in New York City.
NEW YORK’S downtown area was cordoned off as hundreds of volunteers and medical workers converged on triage centers, offering services and blood.
The federal Health and Human Services Department has activated a national medical emergency system in an unprecedented move that would dispatch roughly 7,000 volunteer doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical staff to areas affected by Tuesday’s attacks.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said all of the agency’s 80 disaster teams, based at various locales nationwide, are ready to go where needed.
“This is the biggest deployment,” said HHS spokesman Campbell Gardett, adding that it was the first time all 80 teams had been put on alert.
HHS is the primary agency for sending medical help in a federal crisis. It is responsible for treating victims, evacuating patients in immediate danger and helping hospital staffs overwhelmed by events.
FULL ALERT IN NEW YORK
New York health officials called in every available surgeon and nurse to deal with victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
Paramedics waiting to be sent into the rubble were told that “once the smoke clears, it’s going to be massive bodies,” according to Brian Stark, an ex-Navy paramedic who volunteered to help.
Stark said paramedics were told that “hundreds of police and firefighters are missing” from the ranks of those sent in to respond to the initial crash.
Among those sent to help were New York National Guard members. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said 2,000 of them would be available.
Hundreds of volunteers with medical, military or nursing experience formed ad-hoc crews to accept blood donations and take care of minor injuries as truckloads of medical supplies flooded in.
Hospitals in New Jersey and Connecticut went on alert, poised for casualties from the city.
Ambulances screamed down major thoroughfares across Manhattan as victims streamed into St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in lower Manhattan. The hospital discharged all non-emergency patients.
“People are covered with concrete, soot and other flying objects,” said Mark Ackermann, St. Vincent’s chief corporate officer.
Disaster relief agencies said they were working with the military on Tuesday to rush thousands of pints of blood to New York City and Washington to treat an untold number of injuries.
The American Red Cross, which collects about half of the country’s blood, said it had 60,000 units in various East Coast cities ready to ship to New York City hospitals, and to the Washington area, where the extent of damage and injuries from the attacks were less devastating.
“We’re working with the military in New York and New Jersey so we can get the blood in the appropriate hospitals,” Red Cross Vice President Dr. Jerry Squires said.
With rail and auto traffic into Manhattan halted and all U.S. commercial air traffic grounded, shipping the blood supplies to their destinations would be difficult if not impossible without help from the military.
The National Association of Community Blood Centers, which supplies 70 percent of the blood in New York City, said it sent about 15,000 pints to the city immediately after the World Trade Center attacks and was coordinating with the military to ship more.
BLOOD DONORS LINING UP
To avoid chaos and overcrowding at blood donation centers, the Red Cross urged potential donors to call to schedule appointments.
“There are people lining up at our blood centers all across the United States, all the way out to Los Angeles,” said Squires. “Over the next week or two we’re going to need donors to continue to come in to replenish those inventories.”
Officials said the most needed blood types are 0 positive and 0 negative, the so-called universal blood types that can be transfused into anyone in an emergency.
Although the Red Cross was not calling for emergency blood donations, the National Association of Community Blood Centers was urging donors to come forward. The New York Blood Center announced a blood emergency for the greater New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.
“There are a lot of burn victims,” an association spokeswoman said. “They’ll need platelets, plasma and red blood cells. That’s why it’s so important for people to give blood.”
University Hospital in Newark, N.J., sent emergency coordinators and equipment into Manhattan and the trauma center of Liberty Healthcare System in Jersey City, N.J., was on alert.
In Connecticut, Stamford Hospital was prepared to take as many patients as necessary, said spokesman Scott Orstat. Hartford Hospital called a halt to elective surgery.
Yale-New Haven Hospital opened a command center. Bridgeport Hospital got ready for critical care and burn patients and mobilized additional staff, spokeswoman Mary Heffernan said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Kindness, bravery amid the horror
Internet used to rally relief work, offer housing and help
Sept 12 — In the midst of terror and tragedy, charity fought back across America — and across the Internet. Tales of thousands of small heroes are emerging. Across Manhattan, able-bodied survivors helped the injured or scared walk off the island to safety, while accepting free food and water from shopkeepers eager to help. Blackberry pagers were passed around so survivors could e-mail loved ones that they were safe. Across the country, blood donors lined up outside hospitals, in some cases waiting eight hours to donate. And around the world, U.S. citizens stranded overseas received food, shelter and comfort from strangers.
HUNDREDS OF STORIES of spontaneous acts of kindness are still emerging following Tuesday’s tragic events. As always, horrendous acts of hate have a way of bringing out strong acts of love.
When Maria Trotta, who was stuck in a subway under the trade center for 45 minutes, finally emerged from the smoke-filled subway, the smoke was even worse above ground. But instead of running home, she took care of a woman who had asthma.
“I went looking for a mask for her, but couldn’t find any, but the only thing I could find was a pair of (fortunately clean) athletic socks,” Trotta said.
She guided her several blocks, finally leaving her in the care of EMTs at a rescue station. Only then did she walk across Manhattan Bridge back home to Brooklyn to meet her husband. “I never got her name.”
Stephen Krause of Union, N.J., said his wife — who is 7-months pregnant — works for Salomon Smith Barney and was in front of the World Trade Center when the attack began. A woman she didn’t know stayed with her for hours, taking a 6-mile walk around Manhattan until the pair finally managed to get on a ferry back to New Jersey.
“The woman stayed with her the entire time ... she got her water too and wouldn’t leave my wife,” Krause said.
Jay Lacny was on a bus that sped away from the World Trade Center just moments after the second plane hit. He was one of thousands who are currently sharing stories describing how lucky they are to be alive. He was with a crowd that was standing in the street watching the fire in the first tower when the second plane hit the other building.
“We then literally ran for our lives with debris crashing all around us,” he said. “A bus pulled up a couple of blocks away and everyone rushed on and then sped us to safety a mile away. The driver and all of us were scared for our lives, but did nothing out of the ordinary. I’m sure that many others have contributed greatly and risked their lives.”
Much of the real heroism came from fire and police workers at the rescue scene. A New York City police officer who declined to share his name was carrying victims out of Five World Trade Center when it collapsed.
“The fire department were getting people out from the rubble and we [the police officers] were carrying them out,” he said. “I carried some out and was going back in to get more, but they wouldn’t let me back in. They said the structure was unstable. That’s when the second tower collapsed.” He said many victims were still inside, and several were still alive after the collapse — and too stunned to yell for help.
”(People) were dazed and shocked. It was surreal. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. There just are no words to describe it,” he said.
Across New York, thousands of volunteers pitched in. Store owners opened their doors and gave away flashlights, water, food or anything else that would help rescue workers or victims forced to walk home to Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey or elsewhere once public transportation was shut down. A Duane Reade pharmacy gave out free water, snacks and first aid supplies. A Mrs. Fields Cookies gave away all its food.
Shocked survivors trying learn the fate of loved ones found cellular telephone service was spotty at best.
Ayanna Castro was on a bus near the Trade Center when the attacks hit.
“There were two women on the bus that immediately started to panic. One of them said, ‘My daughter works in that building!’ and the other just wept and kept saying, ‘Oh my God, my husband, my husband.’ Everyone who had a cell phone signal kept trying to call the numbers that the women called out. Even the bus driver offered his cell phone.”
Some found two-way paging services were working consistently, so Blackberry owners volunteered to send out e-mails to families saying “You’re spouse is OK,” Carl Quintanilla, a Wall Street Journal reporter, said on CNBC. Others shared their wireless devices so survivors could write e-mail to loved ones.
Others helped by offering free rides to victims trying to get home.
“A lot of my neighbors here in Cobble Hill were driving around and organizing car pools to bring the refugees to the Atlantic Avenue train station and other places where they could catch a train,” said Gian Trotta. “And I saw some kids from the projects at Red Hook walking up to give blood at Long Island College Hospital.”
Jeff Smith, a New Jersey resident, found himself drawn to Liberty State Park, where he had a clear view of the events unfolding in Manhattan. But rather than stand and gawk at the sites, he ended up spending his morning as a shuttle bus driver.
“As I was trying to fathom that the events were really true, in total disbelief, a gentleman about in his 50s approached me at my vehicle,” Smith said. “He was covered with ashes, with tears in his eyes, and said to me, ‘Sir, can you help me?’ I asked him what was it that I can do for him. His reply was to take him to his home in Milburn N.J. I said ‘no problem’ and drove him to the front door of his home, consoling him that it was a blessing from God that he had survived.”
Blood donors who showed up at hospitals were eager to help out the same way.
“At 11 a.m. today, I could not stand watching the TV any longer and I told the people in my office that I was walking over to NYU Medical Center to give blood,” said Joshua Glantz. “Six people followed me and we gathered more people on the 20-minute walk. It was depressing but also heartening to see people turn in their tracks to join our group. When we got to the hospital, we found an eight-hour wait to give blood."
Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, blood donor lines wound around Hackensack Medical Center, too — in fact, the hospital was so flooded with donors that a remote donor station was in the works at a nearby church in Wood-Ridge, N.J.
Verizon Communications said it would make outgoing calls from its 4,000 payphones in Manhattan free “for the duration of the current emergency.” The company also said it would open up all the payphones to incoming calls, a capability they do not usually have.
Outside the city, thousands of Netizens began to hunt for ways to help during the crisis. Joe Travers of Rockaway Beach, N.Y., opened up a Web site for survivors to leave “I’m Okay” messages to loved ones at http://okay.prodigy.net/. Others volunteers to help directly contact family members, resourcefully using Internet tools.
“I was desperately trying to contact my mother and could not get through,” said Susan Jimenez of Lovelock, Nev. “An Internet chat board acquaintance who lives fairly close to her offered to make the long distance call to try and find her. She did and I was able to talk to my mother through her typing. I’ve never even met this person, but I thank and bless her for her kindness in my time of need. She’s restored my faith in human nature and I’m very glad there are people like her in the world.”
Soon after word came that all flights at U.S. airports had been grounded, offers flooded in for free housing for the night.
“We are 30 minutes from Salt Lake Airport,” Greg Smith wrote to a Princeton University alumni e-mail list. “Plenty of room for stranded travelers and we can do an airport run to pick anyone up.”
Graham Doran made the same offer for folks in San Francisco: “Plenty of couch space. Already picked up one guest, can handle a couple of more,” Doran said.
Among the most traumatized travelers were those still in the sky when the attacks occurred. Celeste Wisniewski says her 18-year-old daughter was en route to JFK International in New York Tuesday morning, on her way back from a soccer tournament in California. “The pilot came on and told the passengers he didn’t know where he was headed,” Wisniewski said. “My daughter was hysterical with fear.”
When the jet finally touched down in Buffalo, local residents did all they could to calm the passengers.
“The team was put up in a hotel. The Girl Scouts came after a while with goody bags of phone cards, water, snacks, and games. Chili’s restaurant gave them free dinners. She told me how kind everyone was to them,” Wisniewski said. “Fortunately she will be home by bus today.”
Even overseas, there was an outpouring of support. Volunteers arrived by the hundreds in Vancouver and Toronto airports to care for passengers on flights that were diverted out of the country.
Mary Stormer of Hurst, Texas, was in London attending a conference as events unfolded.
"I was overwhelmed at the outpouring of compassion and offers of help from the employees of a very large, multi-national company. We Americans were permitted to make calls to our families and friends," she said. "We were hugged with such genuine sincerity that the term "stiff Brits" is obviously a most incorrect term. They offered us their homes, just chatting if we needed to talk, counseling, and phone numbers for homes, and on and on....Out of the darkest hours we see the brightest goodness in people."
U.S. pondering its response - MSNBC (Sep 11, 2001)
Sept. 12 — Reeling from the most devastating day of terrorist attacks in history, President Bush and his advisors struggled Tuesday to devise a response that would convey the depth of the outrage felt across the United States without appearing to lash out blindly.
THE SCALE of the attacks and the loss of life — mostly in New York City’s World Trade Center, but also near Pittsburgh and Washington — ensured that "no option has been taken off the table," senior U.S. officials said. Asked if that included nuclear weapons, one senior official said: "I said no option is out of the question. That’s precisely what I mean."
The nature and precision of the attacks, along with their unknown origin, left the United States with no useful precedents or contingency plans to fall back on.
"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who commit these acts and those who harbor them," Bush said in an address to the nation Tuesday evening. The statement seemed to suggest the United States plans to change its rules of engagement in dealing with terrorist attacks, which often frustrate Washington because of the stateless nature of the terrorist groups themselves.
'WE HAVEN'T HAD A CLUE'
"We lost something like 245 Marines in Lebanon, there was the Mogadishu thing, the Cole, Khobar Towers and embassies in Africa," said Professor William Turcotte, chairman of the national security decision-making department at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. "We haven't had a clue as to what to do....The fundamental issue we have not addressed: If the harborer of terrorists — Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — if they have said the U.S. is 'The Great Satan,' and even without a smoking gun we know they have encouraged this, do you attack the country? So far, we have not. Will our mood change?"
Procedurally, President Bush implemented the nation's "Emergency Response Plan" following the attacks. Airspace over major American cities was cleared of commercial traffic and replaced by military interceptors; large, obvious targets like the White House, Capitol building, the Disney theme parks in Florida and California and the Sears Tower in Chicago, were evacuated. Most tellingly, the president, vice president, congressional leaders and other key government officials were spirited to secure, undisclosed locations — an indication that the attacks achieved an astounding degree of surprise.
Indeed, many officials echoed the words of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet's commander, Navy Adm. Robert J. Natter: "We have been attacked like we haven't been attacked since Pearl Harbor." He then dispatched aircraft carriers to the waters off New York and Washington — an unprecedented step - to provide air cover.
MILITARY ON HIGH ALERT
Soon after the attacks, the United States military and its diplomatic organs quickly ordered steps consistent with imminent action. President Bush placed American military commands around the world, including North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, on their highest level of alert. The United States has about 20,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, more than 100,000 troops in Europe and about the same number in East Asia.
Air Force One, carrying Bush, landed briefly at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, the home of the Strategic Air Command, the nation's nuclear war fighting command, before returning to Washington, where he addressed the nation Tuesday night.
At the Pentagon, one of the terrorists' targets, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would only say: "I have no intention of discussing what comes next, but make no mistake, our armed forces are ready."
While no public accusations of blame were made by the U.S. government, senior officials, along with experts on terrorism, were unanimous in their belief that the attacks were the work of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile who leads the shadowy Al-Qaeda terrorist organization. "No one else but bin Laden has the capability to do this," one senior intelligence official said. "No one."
Bin Laden is living in Afghanistan as a guest of the Islamic regime there, the Taliban. The United States already has warned the Taliban that any act of terrorism on American soil by bin Laden or his followers would be regarded as an act of war.
That said, exactly how to strike out at bin Laden has been a continuing problem for the United States. U.S. intelligence agencies once tracked his movements within Afghanistan fairly reliably by eavesdropping on satellite phone communications. Bin Laden has long since stopped using satellite phones and is now said to sleep in a different safe house every few nights. Three years ago, after the dual bombings at American embassies in Kenya and Mozambique were tied to Al-Qaeda, the United States launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at suspected bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan and a plant in Sudan the CIA suspected of ties with him. Neither air strike did much to dissuade him. The U.S. suspects bin Laden's hand behind the October 2000 attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen.
Amid speculation that the United States would launch an attack on bin Laden, international aid organizations on Wednesday began pulling staff out of Afghanistan. More than 100 foreign nationals work in Afghanistan for international relief agencies that provide humanitarian support to the country's citizens.
Stephanie Brunker, spokeswoman for the United Nation's operations in Afghanistan, told MSNBC.com that 80 U.N. staff members were on their way to neighboring Pakistan.
"Due to concern over prevailing international events, we are relocating our international U.N. staff working in Afghanistan," she said.
Other relief agencies were following suit. Andrew Wilder, who heads up Save the Children's operations, said that while agencies had not received any information on a retaliatory strike against bin Laden, they were taking no chances. "This is a precautionary measure," he said.
ARRAY OF MILITARY OPTIONS
As President Bush weighs options, the difficulty of pinpointing bin Laden — if in fact the United States decides he is responsible — presents a dilemma. Among the options under active consideration:
- Major retaliatory strikes: The United States could strike at Afghanistan with missile strikes — possibly even tactical nuclear weapons — to demonstrate its anger and the grave consequences of such an attack on U.S. soil.
- Military invasion: The president could declare war on Afghanistan and order a buildup of forces similar to that which preceded the Gulf War in 1990. Such a move, however, would require the acquiescence of a neighboring state — either Pakistan or one of the former Soviet Central Asian nations.
- Manhunt: The Army’s Delta Force or other assets could be inserted into Afghanistan to hunt down bin Laden.
- Proxy action: The United States could exert extreme diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two states that have supported the Afghan Taliban in the past, to bring bin Laden to justice.
'NO EASY ANSWERS'
Each of these options has drawbacks, however, and those potential pitfalls will animate the debates within the U.S. national security establishment. For instance, the use of nuclear weapons, in any form, risks alienating a world that is almost united in its revulsion at such attacks — and whose help will be necessary in preventing any future attacks.
"The worst thing we can do is to completely lose our cool and overreact," said Sean Anderson, domestic terrorism expert at Idaho State University who studied the Oklahoma City bombing and the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
"The best thing we can do is carry on, not to depart from our ordinary constitutional legal processes ... get the markets open today and carry on with our lives."
Indeed, it is quite possible the United States will refrain from any immediate action until investigators have time to more thoroughly make the case against whoever directed the attack.
"There are not a lot of easy answers," former Secretary of State James Baker told NBC News. "The president, I think, did the right thing when he said, 'We're under terrorist attack, and we're going to hunt down those responsible.'"