Attack like a 'sonic boom,' witnesses say
By ALLISON DUNFIELD, Globe and Mail Update
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Terrified witnesses streamed from the area of the World Trade Center after an apparent terrorist attack on the twin towers at the start of the business day Tuesday.
Shortly after the 9 a.m. attack, which completely demolished both towers, a police officer who answered the phone at the New York Police Department's 19th Precinct told globeandmail.com that police are "not sure what happened right now."
"Two separate planes hit the building apparently deliberately," the police officer said.
A woman standing on the street near the towers dabbed away tears as she told CNN: "We heard a big bang and then we saw smoke coming out and we saw the blast on the other side of the building and people were jumping out of the windows.
"They're telling everyone to get out but there's no where to go. Everything is blocked off."
A freelance photojournalist in Manhattan told Associated Press that the sight was almost too much to bear.
"All of a sudden there were people screaming. I saw people jumping out of the building. Their arms were flailing. I stopped taking pictures and started crying,' Michael Walters said.
A witness named Gail told Associated Press radio, "I was watching TV, and there was this sonic boom and the TV went out. And I thought maybe the Concord was back in service because I've heard about those sonic booms and I got up to my window (I live in Battery Park City right next to the twin towers) and I looked up and the side of the World Trade Center exploded."
"I think today everyone is in shock," tourist Bob Schemenauer of Jefferson, Mo. told AP. "Tomorrow, everyone's going to be angry."
Rudolph Giuliani, the tough mayor best known for reducing crime in the city, called the attack an act of cowardice.
"The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear, ultimately," he said at a grim afternoon news conference.
A woman named Suzanne, who was at the World Trade Center, told Associated Press Radio:
"It's horrible, it's absolutely the most horrible thing I've ever seen. ... It looks like the building has been ripped apart. It's a sickening thing to see. It's hard to describe, it makes you feel sick to look at."
After the attack by the planes and before the buildings collapsed, paper could be seen flying from the windows and gaping holes in the building.
"It looked like a ticker tape parade because there were parts of the building floating down with the dust," Matthew Low, 29, of Manhattan told Associated Press.
The chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the World Trade Center, was devastated.
"I just saw my two towers fall. I'm devastated beyond belief. In many respects, this is significantly worse than Pearl Harbor, and we don't know who the enemy is," Lewis Eisenberg told Associated Press.
Victims from the attack on the World Trade Center many suffering from extensive burns began arriving at hospitals in New York City about an hour after two planes slammed into the twin towers, witnesses said Tuesday.
"Hundreds of people are burned from head to toe," said Dr. Steven Stern at St. Vincent's Hospital in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of lower Manhattan.
About 50 or 60 doctors and nurses were standing in scrubs and uniforms waiting for the next wave of ambulances to come in. The first wave arrived around 10 a.m. EDT, doctors said.
The entire entrance to the emergency room was lined with stretchers covered with white sheets.
Doctors said the victims mostly had burns.
"So far we've received a few patients, mostly second-degree burns," Dr. Gary Fishman at St. Vincents said. "We are expecting the brunt of the people to arrive soon."
Most of the early patients were being sent to New York University's Downtown Hospital and to St. Vincent's.
And while New Yorkers are known for a tough veneer, the denizens of this city of 8 million were clearly caught off guard, numb with grief and shock.
Catherine White, manager at Robert Emmett's Bar & Restaurant on 44th St. and Eighth Ave., looked at her hands as she described the mood in her pub. "It's just crazy," she sighed. "There's complete disbelief here."
Only about half of her usual staff of eight was able to make it in Tuesday.
"It's not usually this quiet here," White added.
A funereal hush had settled over the Irish pub. Most patrons were staring up at the television screen at the end of the bar, tuned to the flickering images of the devastation and smoke at the World Trade Center.
Not far from White sits Lorie Smith, who struggled with a plate of chicken fingers, trying to eat when she was clearly shaken. She works at a health evaluation company not far away.
"It's terrible," she said. "I just can't imagine it."
Yet, in the midst of tragedy in the enormous metropolis, what has been a New York tradition and testament of the character of the city came into to play: doors were opening to help.
The Hilton Times Square was making dormitories out of conference rooms, moving in rollaway beds to house city workers responding to the crisis. The sold-out hotel also was checking hotels in New Jersey to try to accommodate guests.
"Normally this is a busy time anyway," said General Manager Russell Menkes. "It's just busy for the wrong reason."
Menkes said he was in his office when he heard about the attack.
"I looked out my window and I could see the trade center with a hole in it," Menkes said. "Somebody said it had collapsed, and I looked out my window and there was nothing but smoke."
With reports from Reuters and AP