Pandemonium at ground zero of attack
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — It was the scene of a nightmare: people on fire jumping in terror from the World Trade Center towers just before the buildings collapsed.
"Everyone was screaming, crying, running — cops, people, firefighters, everyone," said Mike Smith, a fire marshal from Queens, as he sat by the fountain outside a state courthouse, shortly after the second tower collapsed. "A couple of marshals just picked me up and dragged me down the street."
Some compared it to Pearl Harbor. Hundreds of people poured off the bridge on the Brooklyn side, covered in gray dust and debris. Many wore protective masks given out by the police and fire departments.
Shirley Bates, who worked on the 88th floor of One World Trade Center, said she saw a woman on her floor with burns on her arms and legs and singed hair. As Bates and others were evacuated, they heard a second explosion.
"Everything came like a tornado," she said. "People started running."
Workers from Trade Center offices wandered lower Manhattan in a daze, barely able to believe they were alive.
Boris Ozersky, 47, computer networks analyst, was on the 70th floor of one of the buildings when he felt something like an explosion rock it. He raced down 70 flights of stairs, and outside, in a mob in front of a nearby hotel. He was trying to calm a panicked women when the building suddenly collapsed.
"I just got blown somewhere, and then it was total darkness. We tried to get away, but I was blown to the ground. And I was trying to help this woman, but I couldn't find her in the darkness," Ozersky said.
After the dust cleared, he found the hysterical woman and took her to a restaurant being used by rescue workers as a triage center.
Clyde Ebanks, vice president of an insurance company, was at a meeting on the 103rd floor of the 110-story south tower of the World Trade Center when his boss said, "Look at that." He turned and through a window saw a plane go by and hit the other building.
He and his co-workers raced down the stairs. When they reached the 70th floor, they felt the building shake as the second plane hit. Later, in tears, his hair covered with gray ash, he added: "I worry about some of my co-workers."
Jennifer Brickhouse, 34, from Union, N.J., was on the escalator heading for her 76th-floor office in the World Trade Center when she "heard this big boom. Everyone was going crazy. We all got out. The minute I got out of the building, the second building blew up. All this stuff started falling and all this smoke was coming through.
"People were screaming, falling and jumping out of the windows," Brickhouse said.
"I just saw the building I work in come down," said businessman Gabriel Ioan, shaking in shock outside City Hall, a cloud of smoke and ash from the World Trade Center behind him. "I just saw the top of Trade Two come down."
Nearby a crowd mobbed a man on a pay-phone, screaming at him to get off the phone so that they could call relatives. Dust and dirt flew everywhere. Ash was 2 to 3 inches deep in places.
"People were jumping out of windows," said an unidentified crying woman. "I guess people were trying to save themselves. Oh my God!"
"I was in the World Financial Center looking out the window," said one woman. "I saw the first plane and then 15 minutes later saw the other plane just slam into the World Trade Center."
Another eyewitness, AP newsman Dunstan Prial, described a strange sucking sound from the Trade Center buildings after the first building collapsed.
"Windows shattered. People were screaming and diving for cover. People walked around like ghosts, covered in dirt, weeping and wandering dazed."
"It sounded like a jet or rocket," said Eddie Gonzalez, a postal worker at a post office on West Broadway. "I looked up and saw a huge explosion. I didn't see the impact. I just saw the explosion."
Morning commuters heading into Manhattan were stranded as the Lincoln Tunnel was shut down to incoming traffic. Many left their cars and stood on the ramp leading to the tunnel, staring in disbelief at the thick cloud of smoke pouring from the top of the two buildings.
On the streets of Manhattan, people stood in groups talking quietly or watching on television at ground-level network studios.