September 12, 2001, New York Daily News, Rudy Narrowly Escapes Disaster; Collapse buries bunker as he leads crisis operation, By LISA L. COLANGELO and JOEL SIEGEL, Daily News Staff Writers,
One minute, Mayor Giuliani saw people leap and fall from the blazing remains of the World Trade Center.
The next, he was nearly trapped as the first of the twin towers collapsed and sent dust and smoke into the temporary command post he and other officials had manned nearby.
Later, the soot still on his shoes, he led briefings and conducted interviews, trying to inform and calm a jittery city.
The mayor has had to shift into crisis mode many times: for the drive-by attack on Hasidic students on the Brooklyn Bridge; the bombing of TWA Flight 800; the blizzard of 1996. This was a tragedy of a far different magnitude, an unspeakable horror that even placed the mayor himself in personal danger.
Ten minutes after Giuliani and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik left one site near the towers, the first collapse occurred — killing some of the officials they had been with, Kerik said.
"It's something we had nightmares about and probably thought wouldn't happen," Giuliani said of the terror attacks.
The mayor was heading to City Hall when he received calls about the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. As Giuliani diverted to the scene, First Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota raced out of City Hall for the six-block drive to the twin towers..
"I look up and see the tail of the [second] jet go into the building. I saw the blast, the stuff coming down, and I ran like hell," Lhota said. "I jumped into a police vehicle as debris rained down on it."
Giuliani, Kerik, Lhota and other officials worked to organize the rescue effort and receive briefings. Periodically, a body would fall from the towers above.
"It was the most horrific scene I've ever seen in my whole life," said Giuliani, looking grim and distraught. "We saw the World Trade Center in flames, a big, gaping hole all the way to the top of it. We could see people jumping from the top of the building."
Said his press secretary, Sunny Mindel: "You would see them, like little toy dolls being flicked by some monster."
The mayor and officials retreated to a warren of rooms in a building on Barclay St., a block and a half away, that had working phone lines. They had to use it because the bulletproof, $15 million command shelter the mayor had built at 7 World Trade Center in 1998 was deemed unsafe.
In the Barclay St. site, they heard the creak and roar as the first tower collapsed. Some aides dived under tables, as smoke and dust seeped through doorframes.
The group found their way into the street, and headed north, away from the fire and rubble. Giuliani wore a mask, as did the others.
At a command post last night, as Giuliani received information about victims he knew, he wept, an aide said. Later, at a 10 p.m. briefing, the mayor's eyes were red, and his dark suit was still streaked with steel-colored soot.
"This is a time we all have to cooperate and help each other," he said.