DATE OF EVENT: Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001
DATE PUBLISHED: Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, in The Kansas City Star (Extra edition)
Airborne terrorists struck today at symbols of American power — including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — leaving the nation’s sense of calm and security in ruins as deep as the rubble of Manhattan’s 110-story twin towers.
A series of hijackings and air crashes — presumably part of an extensive terrorist plot — permanently altered New York’s skyline, sent smoke billowing from the Pentagon and killed untold numbers of people. The destruction left Americans numbed and fearing for what was to come.
Both towers of the World Trade Center crumbled to the pavement, one after the other, about an hour after two airliners struck it. The workday had just begun in lower Manhattan. More than 50,000 people work in the two towers.
A third, smaller plane then plowed into the center of the Pentagon, tearing a gaping scar that continued to billow smoke as noon approached.
Details were sketchy, but earlier reports suggested both planes that crashed in New York belonged to American Airlines. One was a Boeing 767 carrying 81 passengers en route from Boston to Los Angeles. The other was a Boeing 757 carrying 58 passengers from Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles.
During the morning, two United Airlines flights also crashed, one near Pittsburgh. The airline would not say where the other went down. Combined, the two flights carried 94 passengers.
As a result of what some observers were calling the most devastating assault on the United States since Pearl Harbor, commercial planes were grounded from coast to coast, and heightened security went into effect at government and corporate offices nationwide.
President George W. Bush boarded Air Force One in Florida, his destination uncertain.
The president was visiting second-graders in Sarasota, Fla., when a White House aide whispered in his ear news of the attacks.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America,” Bush told the hushed audience. “Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center, in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.
“I am going to conduct a full-scale investigation and hunt down and find those folks who committed this act. Terrorism against our nation will not stand.”
In Philadelphia, dozens of people gathered in a hotel lounge, like millions across the country, watching the television coverage. A visitor from Texas wept.
“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” said 20-year-old Beverly Evans of Dallas. “I never thought I would see anything like this in my lifetime. How can we stop something like this from happening?”
The chaotic scene of devastation in New York’s heart of commerce began to unfold about 8 a.m. Central time, when cameras caught a hijacked American Airlines passenger jet crashing into the World Trade Center. By noon, the casualty count was still unknown.
With cameras trained on the smoking skyscraper, TV caught the second plane crashing into the other tower, footage replayed several times to a viewing audience numbed and in fear of what was to come.
“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.”
Hundreds of people rushed to Manhattan hospitals to give blood, and officials called in every surgeon and every nurse to deal with the victims. Ambulances screamed down major thoroughfares across the city. The injured streamed into St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in lower Manhattan as Army Humvees whizzed by.
Wall Street trading ceased, and the U.S. Capitol and the White House were evacuated. Federal authorities put government offices on alert nationwide — from the Army’s main germ warfare defense laboratory in Frederick, Md., to city offices in Colorado.
“I don’t think there’s any place in America right now that’s not at risk,” said Andrew Hudson, a city spokesman in Denver, where emergency preparedness officials gathered in the basement of City Hall.
Carol Windham, a spokesman at idled Birmingham International Airport in Alabama, said: “We’re like everyone else. In shock.”
Outside the New York trade center, 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.”
Another eyewitness, Associated Press newsman Dunstan Prial, described a strange sucking sound from the Trade Center buildings after the first building collapsed. “Windows shattered,” Prial said. “People were screaming and diving for cover. People walked around like ghosts, covered in dirt, weeping and wandering dazed.”
Eddie Gonzalez, a postal worker at a post office on West Broadway, said: “It sounded like a jet or rocket. 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 closed 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 television.
Joan Goldstein, communications project leader for The Associated Press, was on a bus from New Jersey 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!’ ”
She said that 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.” Goldstein wept and trembled as she spoke.
The plume was from the second plane, but she said 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,” Goldstein said.
Television networks began live coverage at the time the first plane hit the New York City landmark.
As the terror spread, CNN showed a split-screen view of the smoking World Trade Center and the Pentagon, where smoke billowed from another plane crash.
Reports spread as fast as television could detail them — planes grounded across the country, the White House evacuated, an apparent explosion on Capitol Hill — while commentators tried to keep calm. “This may be one of the worst tragedies ever to strike this country,” said MSNBC’s John Siegenthaler. A producer from CNN, Rose Arce, reported that people were jumping from the World Trade Center and described the chaos gripping lower Manhattan.
Trading was suspended at the New York Stock Exchange and did not resume today. The Nasdaq Stock Market said it was still considering an 11:30 a.m. opening, but no final decision had been made.
Other markets did close: the American Stock Exchange and the New York Mercantile Exchange. The nearby World Financial Center, which houses the NYMEX, was also evacuated.
An apparent similar attack on the Pentagon in Washington and reports of the collapse of one of the World Trade Center skyscrapers in Washington added to the paralysis and terror already engulfing the financial district. “The two explosions were incredible and at the point of explosions all you could see outside were personal belongings and office supplies raining outside,” said Bob Rendine, an American Stock Exchange spokesman whose office is down the block from the NYSE. “We’re staying here. … ”
Business and trading in other parts of the country also were affected. The Chicago Board of Trade also suspended all trading, effective 10:15 a.m.
A state of precaution and military readiness took hold from East to West. Security clamped down across New York state, with plans to boost security at border points. Gov. George Pataki canceled his New York City events.
In Virginia, Navy installations throughout Hampton Roads, home of the world’s largest Navy base, were placed under an increased security condition called Threatcon Charlie. Threatcon Charlie is implemented when an incident occurs or when intelligence is received that some form of terrorist action is imminent.
In New Jersey, airports and river crossings to New York City closed. Traffic reported snarled on the New Jersey Turnpike. PATH commuter trains canceled. At Newark International Airport, officers with shotguns blocked the road leading to Port Authority offices and the air traffic control tower. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was shut down and the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, the tallest building in the state, was evacuated.
In Kentucky, the Southern Governors’ Association canceled its annual fall meeting so governors of Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia could head back to their states.
In California, the State’s Emergency Council convened as Gov. Gray Davis requested heightened security at all state buildings.