Last Updated: March 29, 2002
Creeping Horror: Buildings Burn and Fall as Onlookers Search for Elusive
Safety — Sept. 12, 2001
City Awakes, Only to Reflect On a Nightmare — Sept. 13, 2001
Buildings Burn and Fall
as Onlookers Search for Elusive Safety
By N. R. Kleinfield
It kept getting worse.
The horror arrived in episodic
bursts of chilling disbelief, signified first by trembling floors, sharp eruptions,
cracked windows. There was the actual unfathomable realization of a gaping,
flaming hole in first one of the tall towers, and then the same thing all over
again in its twin. There was the merciless sight of bodies helplessly tumbling
out, some of them in flames.
Finally, the mighty towers
themselves were reduced to nothing. Dense plumes of smoke raced through the
downtown avenues, coursing between the buildings, shaped like tornadoes on their
Every sound was cause for
alarm. A plane appeared overhead. Was another one coming? No, it was a fighter
jet. But was it friend or enemy? People scrambled for their lives, but they
didn’t know where to go. Should they go north, south, east, west? Stay outside,
go indoors? People hid beneath cars and each other. Some contemplated jumping
into the river.
For those trying to flee
the very epicenter of the collapsing World Trade Center towers, the most horrid
thought of all finally dawned on them: nowhere was safe.
For several panic-stricken
hours yesterday morning, people in Lower Manhattan witnessed the inexpressible,
the incomprehensible, the unthinkable. “I don’t know what the gates of hell
look like, but it’s got to be like this,” said John Maloney, a security director
for an Internet firm in the trade center. “I’m a combat veteran, Vietnam, and
I never saw anything like this.”
The first warnings were
small ones. Blocks away, Jim Farmer, a film composer, was having breakfast at
a small restaurant on West Broadway. He heard the sound of a jet. An odd sound
— too loud, it seemed, to be normal. Then he noticed: “All the pigeons in the
street flew up.”
It was the people outside,
on the sidewalk, who saw the beginning. At 8:45, David Blackford was walking
toward work in a downtown building. He heard a jet engine and glanced up. “I
saw this plane screaming overhead,” he said. “I thought it was too low. I thought
it wasn’t going to clear the tower.”
Within moments, his fears
were confirmed. The plane slammed into the north face of 1 World Trade Center.
As he watched, he said, “You could see the concussion move up the building.”
“It was a large plane flying
low,” said Robert Pachino, another witness. “There was no engine trouble. He
didn’t try to maneuver. This plane was on a mission.”
Dark spots fell from the
sides of the buildings, and at first it wasn’t clear what they were. Sarah Sampino,
who worked across the street, noticed black smoke outside and went to the window.
“We saw bodies flying out of the windows,” she said. “It was the 85th floor.
I used to work on that floor.”
James Wang, 21, a photography
student snapping pictures of people doing tai chi at a nearby park, looked up
and saw people high in the north tower. They seemed like tiny figurines, and
he didn’t know if they were awaiting rescue or merely looking out. “They were
standing up there,” he said. “And they jumped. One woman, her dress was billowing
Inside the towers, people
felt it without knowing what it was. At about 15 minutes to 9, Anne Prosser,
29, rode the elevator to the 90th floor of Tower 1, where her global banking
office was. As the doors opened, she heard what seemed like an explosion. She
didn’t know it, but the first plane had just hit several floors above her.
“I got thrown to the ground
before I got to our suite,” she said. “I crawled inside. Not everybody was at
work.” She said she tried to leave but there was so much debris in the air she
couldn’t breathe. Port Authority rescuers finally steered her to a stairway.
Tim Lingenfelder, 36, an
office manager at a small investment banking firm, was sitting before his computer
terminal on the 52nd floor of Tower 1. He had just sent an e-mail to his sister
in Minnesota. Nothing special — just how was she and what he had had for breakfast.
The windows rattled. He
heard a loud noise. The entire building shook. He looked up. Outside the windows,
he noticed rubble falling, and he thought, “That can’t be from here.”
Only two others were at
work, a father and son who were both bond traders. They said they had better
get out. They hurried to the stairs and, along with flocks of others, began
“When I got to the 18th
floor, my cell phone rang,” Mr. Lingenfelder said. “It was my sister. She said
a plane had hit and to get out now.”
On the 32nd floor, the entourage
was stuck for about 20 minutes because of smoke. Everyone ducked into offices
on the floor to catch their breath. Mr. Lingenfelder peered out the window and
saw a body lying on the roof of the hotel.
They returned to the stairs
and made it out onto the plaza. Rubble and debris was all around. On the street
there was endless paper and unmatched shoes.
John Cerqueira, 22, and
Mike Ben Fanter, 36, were working on the 81st floor of 1 World Trade Center
when they felt the collision. “People were freaking out,” said Mr. Fanter, a
sales manager. “I tried to get them in the center of the office. About 40 people.
I led them to the hall down the steps.”
He continued: “We stopped
on the 68th floor. I could hear people screaming. There was a woman in a wheelchair.
John and I carried her down from the 68th floor to the 5th floor, where we got
out. We started to see people jumping from the top of the World Trade Center.”
Teresa Foxx, 37, works at
an investment banking firm a block from the World Trade Center, and she had
dropped off her 15-month-old daughter, Trinity, at the Discovery Learning Center
on the plaza level of 5 World Trade Center, the building adjacent to the two
towers. While she was in her office, Ms. Foxx heard the blast and immediately
knew it was a bomb. “Ever since I enrolled her in the World Trade Center, I
keep thinking about the bombing that they had there,” she said.
She grabbed her purse and
went outside and began running toward the daycare center. Other people were
speeding toward her, crying and screaming. She was crying herself. She had to
get her daughter.
By the time she got to the
center, the children had been evacuated several blocks away. She hurried over
there and found her daughter. “I just grabbed her and held her,” she said. “I
was still crying, the other parents were still crying, but we all got our children.”
When she got home, Ms. Foxx
told her husband, “Now I understand why people run into burning buildings.”
Within about 15 minutes
of the first crash, the second plane struck the neighboring tower.
People in the street panicked
and ran. Some tripped, fell, got knocked down, were pulled up. People lost their
keys, their phones, their handbags, their shoes.
Brianne Woods, a student
at Pace University, was walking to class, and as she passed a Burger King not
a hundred feet from the trade center she heard a blast and felt the ground shake.
She ran to a bank, where people were banging on the glass, breaking it, trying
to get inside. “I saw a guy bleeding from the head right by the bank,” she said.
“People were getting stomped on under the crowd. I saw a lady with no shoes,
her feet were bleeding. I was probably in there for about 10 minutes, and I
Her brother worked in the
World Trade Center and she didn’t know if he was in there. She learned later
that he had not gone to work.
She happened to have her
cat, Oliver, with her, and she began wandering around, clutching her cat carrier,
dazed. “I saw two people jump out,” she said. “It was horrible. I felt I was
in a bad nightmare.”
Then a calm set in again.
For blocks around, all the way up to 14th Street, the sidewalks were a mass
of people, eerily quiet, for the incomprehension had struck them mute. As emergency
vehicles, sirens blaring, sped downtown, people stood and gaped at the towers
with holes in them. Many people were steadily inching downtown, not imagining
anything worse was to come.
Marilyn Mulcahy, 31, had
a business appointment at 9 at an office on Broadway a few blocks from the World
Trade Center. She got off the subway at Chambers and Church Streets. She saw
what she believed were pieces of a plane engine on the sidewalk, police officers
running tape around it. She saw the holes in the towers and was dumbstruck.
Reason dictated caution,
to get out of the area, but she was overcome with shock. Almost unknowingly,
she walked to the office where her appointment was. Everyone had left. Even
so, she took the time to scribble a note that she had been there and would call
Back on the street, fear
caught up with her. She changed out of her heels into flat shoes she had in
her bag and ran uptown.
On the corner of Vesey and
Church Streets, across from the Borders Books and Music store in the corner
of the trade center, a small-boned woman, her hair caked with blood, was sitting
on the curb, shaking uncontrollably. One eye was clouded over. A man in a business
suit was lying on a stretcher, being loaded into an ambulance. Emergency workers
came to comfort the woman. Five feet away, another rescue worker crouched down
next to a heavyset woman who was breathing through an inhaler and hugged her.
Some Trade Center workers
blessed their luck at being late for work. Kathleen Dendy, 50, had gotten her
hair cut and so never got to her office at her usual 8:30. She worked on the
99th floor. Rajesh Trivedi, 40, a computer programmer, normally reported at
7, but he had to drop his son off at school and so didn’t get in. He worked
on the 80th floor.
A plane was heard overhead
and people looked up. Another one, they thought. “No, it’s a fighter,” someone
“Are you sure?” a woman
Many people were busy on
cell phones, trying to reach friends and relatives they knew in the buildings
or to alert their own loved ones that they were all right. But the circuits
overloaded. Fear mounted.
And then it got even worse.
Police officers warned people
in the vicinity to move north, that the buildings could fall, but most people
found that unthinkable. They stayed put or gravitated closer.
Abruptly, there was an ear-splitting
noise. The south tower shook, seemed to list in one direction and them began
to come down, imploding upon itself.
“It looked like a demolition,”
said Andy Pollock.
“It started exploding,”
said Ross Milanytch, 57, who works at nearby Chase Manhattan Bank. “It was about
the 70th floor. And each second another floor exploded out for about eight floors,
before the cloud obscured it all.”
Seth Bower was on Broadway
when the force of the collapse knocked him over onto other people. Bodies fell
on top of him — not all of them, he thought, alive.
A plume of smoke reminiscent
of an atomic bomb rose upward and then descended to street level and sped uptown.
People began running, chased by the smoke. The air rained white ash and plaster
dust, coating people until they looked ghostlike.
Some people were screaming,
and many were in shock. “Don’t breathe the air,” people shouted. “It could be
toxic.” People held their breath or covered their faces as best they could with
cloths or their shirts.
Lisle Taylor, 26, a recruiter
with Goldman, Sachs, had just gotten out of a nearby subway stop and saw hundreds
of pieces of paper in the air. She thought it was a marketing campaign. Then
she looked up and saw the tower collapsing. “A woman grabbed my hand,” she said.
“She was saying the Lord’s Prayer.”
For several blocks, everything
was black. People found their eyes burned. Many wondered if they were seeing
the very face of death.
Michael Clinch, a security
officer for an Internet company, left his office soon after the first plane
struck and was standing on Broadway talking to a police officer when the first
tower fell. He saw a woman running, grabbed her and pulled her under a sport
utility vehicle with him. “We got under the truck and waited until it got light
again,” he said. “There were cars just blowing up. They were trying to get equipment
off this emergency truck and get it into a building and all these cars just
blew up. One would blow up and set off the next one. It got so bad we just couldn’t
do anything any more and we had to get out of there.”
Ten or so blocks north of
the towers, the smoke had been outrun and it began to dissipate into the air.
People stopped, turned and looked downtown. As the air cleared, an unthinkable
site presented itself: empty space where a 110-story tower had been.
People gasped. They trembled.
“It can’t be,” an elderly
woman said. “It just can’t be. Where did it go? Oh, lord, where did it go?”
Many of the onlookers stayed
put, frozen in horror. Slowly, the next thought crept into their consciousness:
The other tower would come down too.
Several people voiced the
thought: “Get out of here, the other tower’s going to fall.”
People started walking briskly
north until the premonition became real — another horrifying eruption, as one
floor after another seemed to detonate. Another giant cloud, soot, smoke streaming
through the avenues. Again, people ran.
Many of them stopped at
Canal Street and watched the smoke dissolve. People cried at what they saw:
a crystalline sky with nothing in it.
“Oh my God,” Tim Lingenfelder
said, “there’s nothing there.”
That was when he lost it
and began to cry.
People stood, numb, transfixed
by what had to be a mirage. “All that were left of the buildings that you could
see were the steel girders in like a triangular sail shape,” said Ross Milanytch.
“The dust was about an inch and a half thick on the ground.”
Onlookers gathered in clumps
and tried to understand. People with cars opened the doors and turned on the
radios, and knots of people leaned close to hear what was happening. The news
came across of of the plane at the Pentagon, the plane in Pittsburgh.
“It’s like Pearl Harbor,”
said a middle-aged man at a small parking lot on Canal Street. “It’s Pearl Harbor.
“It’s sickos,” someone else
“This is America,” a man
said. “How can it happen in America? How?”
A young man came around
imploring people to report to St. Vincent’s Manhattan Hospital to donate blood.
Lines five, eight deep developed
at pay phones, but many of the phones didn’t work. Most of the downtown businesses
were closed. People borrowed cell phones, but the heavy phone traffic made communicating
hard if not impossible. Countless people spent hours not knowing where a wife,
a husband or a child was.
For hours, people lingered,
uncertain where to go or what to do in a no longer plausible world. Some felt
compelled to leave Manhattan, taking ferries to New Jersey. A man holding his
weeping wife headed toward the Manhattan bridge, telling her, “Let’s walk over
the bridge to Brooklyn. They can’t hurt us in Brooklyn.”
Late in the afternoon, hundreds
of rescue workers remained outside where the trade towers once loomed, watching
the stubs of the buildings continue to burn into infinity. Several stories still
stood, but it was hard to judge how many. Above the second story was nothing
but an intense orange glow.
“It’s eerie,” said Monet
Harris, 22, a transit worker. “You always look for those two buildings. You
always know where you are when you see those two buildings. And now they’re
City Awakes, Only to Reflect On a Nightmare
By N. R. Kleinfield
New York woke up to another day yesterday, but it wasn’t another day. It couldn’t
It was a city of less. Less
traffic, less noise, fewer people, less activity, less momentum, less certainty,
The dawn did not erase the
preceding day’s agony — no dawn could — and so New Yorkers ate their meals,
did the dishes and put out the trash, the mundane tasks of life, but nothing
felt the same. The city seemed ever so much more fragile and unfamiliar.
On a day when work meant
so much less than family and human companionship, when the very constructs of
what it meant to live in New York came under question, New Yorkers spent much
of their time in somber and heartfelt reflection.
The most glaring difference
yesterday, of course, was less skyline. No one could glance downtown without
feeling chills from the absence of the trade center towers. But in countless
smaller ways, the reassuring signposts of daily life were not there.
It was a city of quiet.
People who lived near the
city’s busy airports, accustomed to the repetitive ear-splitting roar of jets
arriving and departing, awoke to a day of uncomfortable silence. Smaller sounds
resounded, for the bigger ones were gone.
Traffic was sparse, and
sirens, one of the background noises of city life, seemed so much louder and
more ominous than ever before.
It was a city of lonely
Richard M. Morris’s workday
always begins when he squeezes onto Metro-North’s final rush hour train at Croton-on-Hudson,
the last express stop before Manhattan. The train is usually a sardine can by
then, people having boarded on the succession of earlier stops. Mr. Morris,
a corporate lawyer, barely finds room for his 6-foot-3 frame.
But when he took the train
yesterday morning, he had rows of seats to himself. Even the front car, typically
crammed with those eager to conserve a few precious commuting steps, was just
Mr. Morris continued his
routine yesterday out of willpower rather than need. His office was closed.
He did not need to come in. ‘‘The one thing you know the terrorists want is
to disrupt our lives,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not going to give them that. I’m trying
to regain some normalcy.’’
It was a city of eerie contrasts.
On the Upper West Side,
there was a powerful but artificial sense of another day. In the morning, a
playground in Riverside Park teemed with children playing on swings and in sandboxes
in the sparkling sunshine, under the watchful eyes of parents. Along the promenade,
people sat reading the papers, biking and skating. But there was an odd hush.
Smiles were rare.
By the time one gravitated
down to West 55th Street, the complexion changed. Suddenly, there was the evacuated,
closely protected aura of a war zone. Police checkpoints and barricades appeared
along the bikeway and the West Side Highway, continuing all the way to Lower
Manhattan. Traffic vanished. One could travel for blocks and see only a city
bus or an occasional taxi.
Lower Manhattan, had the
feel of an abandoned town. Everything closed. The streets and sidewalks nearly
It was a city of postponements.
It was matinee day on Broadway
— shows in the afternoon and evening — but all the theaters were dark. Nothing
at the Golden or the Imperial or the Shubert. Nothing at the Lunt-Fontanne or
the Palace. Performances canceled ‘‘due to circumstances beyond our control.’’
Two middle-aged women studied
the notice on the door of the Lunt-Fontanne, where ‘‘Beauty and the Beast’’
usually plays, and one said, ‘‘No, no show today.’’ Her friend said: ‘‘I didn’t
think so. How could there be a show? Who would show up? Who could perform?’’
No one journeyed to the
observation deck of the Empire State Building to look at the stunning cityscape.
The entire building was shut down.
The stock exchange tape
on the side of the Morgan Stanley offices at Broadway and 48th Street reported
no stock trades. There were none to report. Instead, there was information on
an employee assistance phone line and pleas to give blood.
No parents had to rise early
and bundle their children off to school. There was no school. Some classmates
arranged their own little gatherings to bond and distract themselves from events
beyond their comprehension.
It was not a day for shopping.
So many stores were closed
entirely, not sure when they would open. On the doors of the Virgin Megastore
in Times Square, a notice said simply, ‘‘We are closed until further notice.’’
Macy’s Herald Square, the
world’s biggest store, was open, but the aisles were thin in the late morning.
The Gap across the street was closed. Outside, a half-dozen police officers
ate sandwiches and drank from jugs of water propped on a parked car.
Barbers sat idly outside
barber shops, talking quietly. It was not a day to get one’s hair cut.
Midtown parking lots, usually
bursting with cars, sat nearly empty. On 37th Street, between Eighth and Ninth
Avenues, was a row of parking lots, promoting their exquisite convenience to
Madison Square Garden, Macy’s, the fashion district and the convention center.
Any weekday found them packed with cars.
In the late morning an attendant
at S&R Parking said he had 11 cars, all monthlies. No day parkers had arrived.
‘‘Normally, there would be 71 cars,’’ he said.
The next lot down was closed
and had no cars in it. The same story at the next one. At Park Right, where
$5.92 got you an hour, George Hernandez, the manager, just shook his head. ‘‘Five
cars,’’ he said. ‘‘Just five.’’
On a normal day, the lot
was full by 10 in the morning. ‘‘That’s a hundred cars,’’ he said. ‘‘Today,
forget about it. It’s bad news.’’
Mr. Hernandez lived in Queens
and always drove to work, but there was limited access, so he took the subway.
‘‘Empty,’’ he said. ‘‘Plenty of room to stretch out.’’
It was a city of reflection.
For everyone, the magnitude
of what had happened was still being absorbed. People fumbled with what they
would or would not do from now on. A man walking down Lexington Avenue in Midtown
in the early morning kept saying, ‘‘I’ll never go downtown again. Worked there
15 years. I’ll never go down there again.’’
Measuring the city’s will
and its grit is never easy. Throughout its eventful history, periodically marred
by tragedy, New Yorkers have always stood up with uncommon resolve and resilience,
but this was unlike any other disaster, and many people felt shaken to the core.
They found themselves having epiphanies.
Danny Klein, 27, was outside
Madison Square Garden, wearing a T-shirt inscribed, ‘‘We will rebuild,’’ a sentiment
somewhere in the hopes of everyone in the city.
‘‘I wore it because we are
going to rebuild,’’ he said. ‘‘I wanted to drape my body in the American flag
is what I wanted to do.’’
There were people full of
militant feelings, and there were people who expressed restraint.
‘‘I’m a 47-year-old guy
who just saw the World Trade Center blow up, and I don’t want another innocent
47-year-old Afghani to look off his terrace and see something blow up,’’ said
Doc Daugherty, an actor who lives six blocks from the World Trade Center. ‘‘You
think like you were going to go into a hate mode and instead I’m like more in
a peace mode — I mean, can we talk about this?’’
Even blocks from the epicenter
of the horror, on Reade Street near Hudson, some people who managed to enter
the area went on as always. Grace DiTomaso placidly tended the potted geraniums
in front of her Italian restaurant, Luca Lounge Cucina. ‘‘A little hose and
they’ll be O.K.,’’ she said as she plucked dead leaves from them. She didn’t
even look up as emergency vehicles rolled up Hudson.
‘‘Normal routine, don’t
you need it?’’ she said. ‘‘I think you do.’’
It was a city of oddities.
At one of the souvenir shops
that line Fifth Avenue in the mid-40’s, several people were congregated around
the racks of postcards, buying cards with the World Trade Center on them.
It was a city of occasional
After a trained dog gave
signs of sniffing explosives on the 44th floor of the Empire State Building
late last night, the police evacuated the area. Some jittery New Yorkers ran
down Seventh Avenue away from the building. Others stopped on street corners
to watch, saying they wanted a last look at the building. But it was all a false
It was a city of reassurance.
Among all that was different,
there were of course the things that were just as they always were. They stood
out in stark relief.
Like every other day of
familiar and unfamiliar happenings, mail carriers pushed their wheeled carts
through the streets, and the sight of them seemed comforting.
One man walked up to a mailman
near the large post office building across Eighth Avenue from Madison Square
Garden and asked if delivery would be normal today. The mailman didn’t miss
a step. He said, ‘‘Sure. The mail’s coming today. The mail comes every day.’’
And for all the things that
there were less of in New York yesterday, there were some important ones that
there were more of. There was more grief, of course, but also an omnipresent
feeling of compassion, a desire for companionship and a yearning to believe
something redemptive could come out of horrific tragedy.
‘‘For the first time in
my life, I want a partner just so I don’t have to go through this alone,’’ said
Jennifer MacLeod, 40, a media consultant.
Rather than stay home the
night of the tragedy, she volunteered to work at a friend’s understaffed bar,
serving drinks, the first time she had waitressed since college. ‘‘It was really
satisfying to be around other people,’’ she said. ‘‘I also oddly felt I was
doing a public service.’’
Most Wednesdays, Felicia
Finley, 29, glues on fake eyelashes for her role in ‘‘Aida,’’ the Broadway musical.
But yesterday, she felt paralyzed. ‘‘I started to get dressed,’’ she said, ‘‘then
I started watching television and sat back down and started crying.’’
When the show resumes, she
feels she will be renewed. ‘‘It’s given me a newfound appreciation of what I
do for a living,’’ she said. ‘‘People need to feel inspiration and hope, and
if I can do that, you better be sure that I’ll be the first one to do it.’’
Copyright 2001 The New York