'You could smell the city burning'
By SHAWN MCCARTHY AND BRIAN LAGHI
With a report from Canadian Press
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
NEW YORK -- More than 12 terrifying hours after two hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center, survivors were reported making cellphone calls from the rubble, desperately hoping to be rescued.
And as the mayor of New York late last night said there was no way of knowing how many people survived the devastating attacks, those who managed to escape told stories of their retreat from the horror.
Hironoka Tani and Azuchi Nobuhiko heard the first crash, and without pausing, headed for the exits. With their colleagues from the Shizuoka Bank they ran 45 minutes to safety, down 80 storeys of fire escape in the World Trade Center's South Tower after an explosion rocked the building.
Everyone was calm, Mr. Tani said and they made it to the street safely. "We saw fire and smoke when we came out, but people were not panicked, they were very, very calm."
Within minutes, the North Tower collapsed, sending plumes of smoke and dust.
"Then everybody ran, then it was panic," Mr. Tani said last night, his hair still greyed with concrete dust.
Mr. Nobuhiko said when the first airplane hit the building, he thought there had been an earthquake, but then remembered he was in New York.
The two survivors walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with hundreds of other people trying to get away from the devastation. Hundreds more fled to the north. Both men believed their colleagues all made it to safety.
The surreal image of an airliner slamming into a world-famous skyscraper in a fiery explosion will remain forever seared into Robin Bates's mind.
Ms. Bates, a Toronto native working at an ad agency in New York, was on the 18th floor of her office building in midtown Manhattan yesterday morning, watching in horror as the second plane hit.
"It just lit up like a lighter," Ms. Bates, 29, said in a phone interview. "It was terrible. . . . I felt my stomach go up into my throat. I had to get away from the window. People were screaming and crying."
Seconds before that, she had stared in disbelief at the smouldering wreck of the Trade Center's other tower, which had been struck by the first aircraft.
"At first I thought, 'How terrible, a plane flew into the first building.' And then the second thing happened and you realized it wasn't just an accident.
"People just started to cry. . . . People turned away. It was so terrible, thinking of all those people."
She also watched as both towers collapsed. "I heard someone say the building is tilting," she said about the second tower collapse. "I thought, this cannot be happening. It just started, floor by floor, sinking, like a banana peeling right down. . . . You cannot believe what it looks like."
Kevin McCarthy, a 35-year-old banker working in an adjacent skyscraper, said he and co-workers watched the conflagration from the crash of the first hijacked airplane from their office windows.
He described the sound as a loud screech, followed by a bang, but added that no one from his office left the building at that point. After the second plane slammed into the North Tower, he could no longer bear to look.
"I left the window because I didn't want to watch it any more," he said. "The second [plane] hit and everyone was leaving. There was nothing to think about any more."
He was struck by the quiet manner in which people milled about the street.
"It was really eerie," he said "It was chaotic, but it was very quiet. There were people everywhere."
Toronto resident Andy Walker was on a flight to New York when the attacks occurred. As his plane approached La Guardia, it banked, providing a view of Manhattan.
"I could see the city in the distance," he told the Edmonton Journal. "The World Trade Center was burning like crazy, the top 15 floors. Smoke was pluming out from the South Tower for four or five miles. At first, nobody on the plane saw it, then there was this buzz of talk, and then, 'What's going on? Oh my God!' "
When his flight landed, the air conditioners came on, pulling in air from the outside. "You could smell the city burning," he said. "That's what it smelled like. Just buildings burning."
New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord was in New York on a trade mission when the attack occurred but escaped unscathed. He was in a meeting near the Canadian consulate in midtown Manhattan when the disaster happened.
"About an hour after the incident, we could see thousands of people walking from the south to the north of the city, leaving the downtown core," he said. "They were orderly and calm but you could see the sorrow and concern on their faces."