New York: A City Turned Upside Down

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2001

NEW YORK, 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, 20- and 30-story-high facades kept shearing away, and pools of highly flammable jet fuel hindered 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.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said 265 firefighters and 78 police officers were missing and feared dead. Entire fire companies apparently perished as the World Trade Center's 110-floor twin towers imploded, one after the other, after being hit by hijacked airliners.

"I have a sense it's a horrendous number of lives lost," Giuliani said. "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."

Life in the city turned upside down. The roller-blade paradise of Liberty Park in Lower Manhattan was transformed into a triage center, and Chelsea Piers, an upscale body-toning center on the Hudson River, became a makeshift morgue, black body bags stacked in the brilliant September sun.

Dozens of New Yorkers gathered by police barricades in Lower Manhattan, tugging at officers, seeking news of missing relatives. Thousands more flocked to the city's churches. "They're extremely quiet," said the Rev. Jeff Hammer, the hospital chaplain, "like the kid who got punished."

By evening, St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village had admitted more than 260 victims, 18 of them in critical condition, and three had died.

City rescue squads have "informed us they will be digging out bodies for many more hours," said Mark Ackerman, a hospital spokesman.

President Bush declared the city a major disaster area, and Gov. George Pataki said state National Guard troops were fanning out across Lower Manhattan. Fighter jets crisscrossed high above the city, and two aircraft carriers took up residence in New York Harbor.

At the insurance brokerage firm of 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.

Red-hot debris rained from the twin towers onto other buildings, setting them on fire. The World Trade Center's Building No. 7, a 47-story tower that housed offices of the U.S. Secret Service and the Shearson brokerage house, was the third structure to collapse.

Building No. 6, the U.S. Customs House, which contains federal Treasury Department offices, remained standing, but was a smoking husk.

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© 2001 The Washington Post Company