Third Tower Crumbles in New York
By Michael Powell, Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2001; 9:04 PM
NEW YORK CITY, Sept. 11--The symbol of the nation's financial might was a smoldering wreck tonight, as a third tower collapsed at the World Trade Center and the realization came that thousands likely lay dead in the rubble of two of the world's tallest buildings.
Fires raged into the evening, facades kept shearing away, and pools of highly flammable jet fuel forestalled rescue efforts. The city's nearly 200 hospitals were awash with victims, and administrators appealed for help of any kind, from blood and water to plastic surgeons and burn specialists.
"I have a sense it's a horrendous number of lives lost," said Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. "The number of deaths will be more than we can bear. Our hearts go out to all the families that will suffer. They don't deserve this."A firefighters union official said as many as 400 firefighters may have died, including entire fire companies, as the World Trade Center's 110-floor twin towers imploded after being hit by hijacked airliners.
Life in the city turned upside down. Liberty Park in lower Manhattan was transformed into a triage center and Chelsea Piers, an upscale recreation center on the Hudson River, became an impromptu morgue, black body bags stacked like so many sacks in the brilliant September sun.
Other New Yorkers tugged at police officers, seeking news of missing relatives. And thousands more flocked to the city's churches.
President Bush declared the city a major disaster area, and Gov. George Pataki said state national guard troops were fanning out across lower Manhattan. Two aircraft carriers took up residence in New York Harbor.
At insurance brokerage firm Marsh & McLennan, only 500 of 1,700 workers in the World Trade Center were accounted for, a spokeswoman said. The World Trade towers ordinarily hold nearly 50,000 workers – the largest tenants are Morgan Stanley, with 3,000 employees, and the New York Port Authority, AON Risk Services and Empire Blue Cross – although the relatively early hour of the attack might have tamped down the toll. Neither the observation deck on the World Trade Center nor the popular Windows on the World Restaurant were open at the time.
Debris rained down from the twin towers onto other buildings, setting them on fire. The third structure to collapse, early in the evening, was Building No. 7 of the trade center complex, a 47-story tower housing offices of the U.S. Secret Service and the Shearson brokerage house. Building No. 6, the U.S. Customshouse, which contains federal Treasury Department offices, was a smoking husk but still standing.
Giuliani said 2,100 people were injured – 1,500 "walking wounded" and 600 others who were taken to area hospitals, 150 of them in critical condition. Radio and television stations broadcast repeated appeals for plastic surgeons, burn specialists, nurses and nurses aides to report to local hospitals.
At St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital, as in so many hospitals across New York today, the scene on the sidewalk and in the hospital's operating rooms resembled a wartime MASH unit.
"I'm sure I'll never see anything like this again my life," said Susan Fenton, a hospital official at Roosevelt. "It's really the end of the sort of naivete that Americans have allowed themselves to experience. It's like, 'Welcome to the rest of the world.' "
The terror started at 8:45 a.m. when an American Airlines jetliner sliced low across the city and hit the North Tower. Then, a few minutes after 9 a.m., a United Airlines jetliner hurtled into the South Tower, exploding into a fireball seen across the city.
Flames leapfrogged floors, and within minutes vast plumes of thick black smoke enveloped the gleaming steel-and-glass towers. Through smoke and debris, panicked workers could be spotted hugging and jumping from as high as the 80th floor.
Some held hands. Some were on fire.
"Bodies splattered the pavement, you couldn't even get out of the building – blood everywhere," said George Dwarika, a janitor who crawled out of the basement. "I saw a man waving red flag for a minute, and then the guy just jumped into space."
As fire engines and rescue vehicles raced to the scene, hundreds of firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel strapped on oxygen masks and began climbing up stairwells into heart of the crippled buildings, only to have the North Tower collapse in a thunderous roar at about 10:45 a.m.
Gray chalk clouds, 30 stories high, rolled down the avenues and up the alley-like side streets of lower Manhattan.
The South Tower collapsed a few minutes later, sending up another funeral pyre-like cloud of ash and smoke. Only the outer wall of one tower remained, and only up to the 30th floor or so, where the steel frame bent outward like baling wire.
Taken together, the building fires and collapses likely trapped thousands of rescuers and workers. "I remember coming down the steps, in the smoke, with water pouring in the dark," said Peter Genova, who worked in One World Trade Center. "And all I saw was dozens and dozens of firemen and cops going up those steps to try and help people. Twenty minutes later, the building was gone."
Pataki declared a state of emergency late in the morning, saying: "The magnitude is something that has us all horrified.
The mayoral primary was postponed, and officials closed schools and the region's three airports as well as the Brooklyn, Verrazano and George Washington bridges. Trading on Wall Street was suspended. Broadway shows were canceled. Electric power was lost to portions of the city, and the destruction of more than 100 antennas atop the World Trade Center severely disrupted communications. Phone systems were overwhelmed with the volume of callers, many desperately checking on family and friends.
It could take weeks to dig through the rubble for victims. Giuliani was himself trapped inside the city's emergency command center for 10 minutes, as the North Tower collapsed into the street and rained tons of debris on the city's Barclay Street bunker.
Giuliani did not dwell on his close call. "I feel bad for the people we lost, some of whom I spoke to just 15 minutes before they died," he said. "We have to focus on surviving and being stronger for it."
The search was complicated by raging fires. Firefighters made periodic runs at the smoking walls, only to retreat each time. A fire chief explained that water could not be sprayed directly on the smoking tower remnants, as water can make jet fuel spike into flames. City firefighters did not immediately have the retardant used to deal with jet fuel.
At 3 p.m., radios cracked and firefighters, who had crowded around St. Paul's Church in lower Manhattan, were told to suspend all searches for fear of further building collapses. More than two hours later, Building No. 7 collapsed.
"This is like Beirut," said an FBI agent as he surveyed a tableau of broken metal, glass shards, stone fragments and upended cars and buses. "They got us good."
Two blocks away, part of the American Stock Exchange's headquarters were damaged by flying debris, and officials took refuge in the basement.
"Our rescue efforts are really hindered," said Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. "We want to rescue the people who alive and still in there. But buildings keep collapsing. As soon as we can, we'll get in there."
This is the second time that terrorist bombers have struck the World Trade Center. They attacked in February 1993, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.
Security was tightened considerably after the 1993 bombing, but William F. Clair Jr., member of a law firm with offices on the 52nd floor of the North Tower, said he never felt safe. "I always told my friends that all it would take was a small rental plane from New Jersey, loaded with fertilizer," he said last night. "I never dreamed it would be a commercial airliner."
Clair was on the way to work when one of the hijacked planes hit his building, just below the 72nd floor. He said probably six people were in the office of his firm, Hill, Betts & Nash, when the first plane hit and perhaps 15 more were on their way up in elevators or coming off subway trains beneath the Trade Center when the second attack came. All of them made it out of the building in time, he said.
The towers were not only a symbol of America's financial might but also something of an engineering miracle. They housed financial and government offices, as well as a web of subway and commuter trains below.
Giuliani, however, took pains to ask New Yorkers not to judge each other harshly, particularly those from different ethnic and racial groups. Spokespeople from a rainbow of ethnic and racial groups, including Jews and Arab New Yorkers, condemned the attack in unequivocal terms.
"Hatred, prejudice and anger is what caused this," the mayor said this evening. "We should act bravely and in a tolerant way."
"New York is still here," Giuliani added. "We've suffered terrible losses and we will grieve for them, but we will be here, tomorrow and forever."