In the chaos following the destruction of the World Trade Center, people who had escaped from the giant office buildings ran northward, ghostlike in their coatings of white plaster dust, many crying and shouting. Four blocks north, outside Stuyvesant High School, others simply stood and stared.
"This is the most horrifying thing I've ever experienced," said Jim Zamparelli, 54, as he stood near the school just after the southern tower collapsed, watching the northern tower burn.
"Look - Oh my God, look - there's a person falling. I can't watch. Don't watch.
"Oh my God," he cried, "Oh my God, as we're talking that whole tower is falling. Run!"
Those who did watch saw great chunks of the building falling off, and more bodies fall.
"People were jumping out of the building," said Terrance Philips, 35, from New Jersey, as he watched from three or four blocks away. "People seemed to be deciding just to take their own lives. It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen."
Before the collapse, bystanders saw a jet approach the buildings.
"I saw this plane screaming overhead," said David Blackford, a Manhattan resident who as walking to work at 8:45 a.m. "I thought it was too low; I thought it wasn't going to clear the tower."
He saw it slam into the side of the building, he said, and "The jets on each side of the plane blew up. You could see the concussion move up the building."
From the World Financial Center, another tall office building across the street to the west of the Trade Towers, employees watched from their windows in shock as the building fell. Angelo Echevaria, 49, said he had to prod fellow workers who were frozen with fear, urging them to evacuate.
Once outside, Mr. Echevaria said, "I was walking by the Winter Garden, and then there was this huge noise. Then there was all this paper falling around me. The building just sank down on itself, and tilted over. Then it all turned black; the smoke was all around me, you couldn't see at all."
Scurrying west, toward the Hudson River, Mr.Echevaria met an elderly woman and grabbed her to help her flee. He said they crouched under a marble bench near the water's edge, and he held her nose to the side of his shirt so she could breathe through the fabric, filtering out the smoke and dust.
"The dust was all over, you couldn't hide from it," he said. "I looked down at my feet and it seemed like it was 10 inches deep, exactly like a snowstorm."
All tunnels and bridges into New York City were closed, as were many buildings; subway service was suspended for a few hours. The city's primary elections, for mayor and other offices, were called off. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani ordered lower Manhattan evacuated, to make way for emergency vehicles.
Timothy Stewart, a Bronx police officer assigned to the emergency rescue effort, said officers could only work for an hour or so at a time because of the dust and smoke.
"It looks like Jones Beach," he said. "There is silt everywhere, dust everywhere. You can only stay down there a few minutes before the smoke gets to you.
"Most cars in the area were blown apart by the force of the collapse; they were blown over on their sides. They look almost like rust buckets, like they've been abandoned for years.
"All you see is dust. It's about ankle deep. It's like walking in sand."
Metropolitan Transit Authority buses and New Jersey Transit buses were put to use dropping off fresh firefighters and police officers, and picking up those in need of relief.
"It's controlled chaos down there," said Stephen Smallwood, a firefighter.
It was a scene of semi-orderly panic for those who managed to get out of the Trade Towers on foot just before the final collapse.
Inside the southern tower, Jessica Escalera, 22, a mailroom worker on the 39th floor, had just finished breakfast at her desk when "the floor went up."
"It swelled up and then swayed back and forth," she said. "I thought it was an earthquake or a bomb. We were all panicking; we didn't know what to do."
She said everyone ran to the stairwell, which was filled with smoke. On the 9th floor, they met firefighters going up; she said there was water around her feet and smoke around her head.
"I was praying, I was just hoping I would get out alive," she said. As she finally left the building, she said she passed a body sheared in half.
She was about three blocks clear of the southern tower when it fell.
Father Paul Engel, 64, was in a health club on the 22d floor, and had just changed into his swim trunks when he felt the building shake.
"Then someone came running through the room shouting, 'Get out of here.' " he said. "Debris was falling everywhere; plaster was falling into the swimming pool. There was smoke all over."
He also escaped by running down the stairs.
Students dismissed from Stuyvesant High School were crying and running from the school, backpacks flapping.
Adults were looking for children, crying when they found them.
A Times reporter, Terry Pristin, said that as a result of the twin tower attacks, Bellevue Hospital had admitted 30 people for minor injuries, 5 for major injuries, and that one person was dead on arrival. The total included four children, but it was not known if they were among the injured or the dead.
Carlos Perez, the hospital's executive director, said, "We are prepared to handle a full load of patients. Anyone who wants to check on a loved one should go to the hospital."
Long lines of people who wanted to give blood were forming outside the hospital.
Kim Hutchinson, 27, a student at the University of Massachusetts, said she wanted to give blood "to save a life while I am waiting for people to trickle in."
Jeff Lanka, 40, of Merrick, L.I., works as a computer programmer on the 58th floor of the northern tower, No. 2 World Trade Center. Interviewed at Bellevue, he said that when the southern tower was hit, his building "shook a little." But a public-address announcement declared that the No. 2 tower was stable and that there was no need to evacuate, he said.
Then the second tower was hit, and evacuation began. It took 15 minutes, he said, adding: "Some people were crying but it was very orderly. Someone with a bullhorn was saying, 'Just walk, don't run and don't panic.' "
After leaving the building, Mr. Lanka walked uptown, and stopped in a church where he said he spent half an hour praying. Hearing that Bellevue had set up mobile blood donation centers, he then went there, thinking, he said, "I can pay back, for sparing my life."
Another Times reporter, Sherri Day, who had just emerged from a subway stop in lower Manhattan, took refuge in a Modell's sporting goods store at 200 Broadway, with about 10 other passersby. She said many who came in were covered with soot and debris as much as an inch thick, covering their clothing and matted in their hair.
Louis Caruso, an emergency medical technician with the Ringwood Ambulance Corps, at 100 Broadway, who had been at a triage area helping treat the injured, told her:
"All of a sudden it became black. I just grabbed onto a telephone pole and held onto it. Then the thing blew up. There was nowhere for us to go."
He and colleagues used the Modell's store as a makeshift refuge.The manager, Robert James, gave out clean T-shirts.
"It's an emergency," Mr. James said. "I couldn't refuse. I didn't know what to think at first. I looked outside and I saw people running, so I let them in. We've got to at least be a safe haven for the disaster."
Mr. James tried to comfort his charges, a band of strangers, which included police detectives, a legal secretary and a mail clerk as they tried to make sense of what had just happened.
Jeanette Senko, 52, wanted to use the telephone. "I just want to try to reach my husband and let him know I'm alive," said Ms. Senko, a legal secretary who works at 123 Williams Street. "The last time I talked to him I told him our building was evacuated. I just don't want him to worry."
Jahleek Varner, 21, who works as a mail clerk at the Bank of New York, told his new compatriots that he had just stepped off the A train at Chambers Street when he saw Tower One of the World Trade Center engulfed in flames. "You could see people jumping from the one tower," Mr. Varner said. "Just jumping. Just flapping in the air."
"It was like a rumble," he said, and started to sob. "It even felt like the air was shaking. I want to go home. Right now I don't even feel alive. I don't feel alive right now."
Just before 10 a.m., Fifth Avenue in midtown offered a clear view south of the two smoking towers downtown. Some pedestrians stole glances at the surreal scene as they went about their business. "I don't like being this close to the Empire State Building," one woman in a business suit remarked to another, as they hurried across the avenue at 37th Street.
Many other pedestrians simply stood on the sidewalks and on the edges of the avenue itself, looking south. In front of an electronics store on the west side of the avenue, between 37th and 38th Streets, several dozen people crowded to watch a television in the window, which showed the towers live on CNN.
Suddenly, with a new plume of smoke and dust, one of the towers collapsed, and a roar of shock and anger erupted all up and down the avenue.
In the aftermath at the scene, Cecil Maloney, 61, a 40-year veteran of the Fire Department now working as a fire marshal, stood, covered with white dust, drinking water. He had been a half-block from the north tower when it fell.
"We heard a noise, a sound like a roar," he said. "We all looked up. We saw the wall of the building start to slip and fall. I thought I was going to die."
He ran for cover under a car bumper with three other firefighers; the four had two oxygen masks, which they passed around.
"It's a great shame," he said. "I'm too old. It's like Pearl Harbor."
An hour after the disaster, a fire marshall whose badge gave his name as L. F. Garcia brushed aside a reporter's question quietly.
"There's nothing to talk about now," he said in a defeated tone. "What is there to talk about?"
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Horror, Alarm and Chaos Grip Downtown Manhattan
The New York Times, By JULIAN E. BARNES, Published: September 11, 2001