The unspeakable has happened. Tuesday morning, while I watched the Today Show with O nursing in my lap, two airplanes were hijacked and deliberately flown into the Twin Towers. I saw the second plane hit live on television, as they were already covering the first crash and all you could see of it was smoke billowing out of the first tower. Then out of the corner of the screen came the second plane, crashing into the other tower with a tremendous flash of light and smoke and orange flame. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were reporting live on the first impact, on the phone with witnesses describing what they saw, when the second impact occurred. It was absolutely unbelievable.
Hundreds of rescue workers, firefighters, and police officers rushed to the scene as people fled the two towers, both aflame as monstrous clouds of smoke filled the air. And, as we continued to watch, one tower and then the other collapsed in what seemed like slow motion in a huge pile of ash and rubble. The streets below were blackened as the sun of what was otherwise a beautiful September morning was snuffed out and replaced with thick smoke and millions of paper and ash fell like gray blizzard. I sat incredulous, my heart pounding, fearful for the city I loved and the thousands who surely lost their lives. Many escaped, but many more lost their lives.
There were cell phone calls from people still trapped in the rubble, begging to be found. I think five or six have been pulled out alive so far – one, a fireman who had made it to the 82nd floor when it collapsed. His survival is an absolute miracle. Another man who was in Tower 2 heard the explosion and saw the smoke from the first tower and heard an announcement that the fire was contained to Tower 1 and they could all return to their offices. He chose to leave Tower 2 anyway.
Many others received calls from loved ones who were trapped, saying they couldn’t get out and that they loved them. Still others were jumping out of windows from top floors, some in pairs and hand-in-hand. Think about that. Imagine jumping out of your second story bedroom window in a fire… what would you break? Would you survive? Now multiply that exponentially… these people jumped from 80+ floors.
News outlets captured that footage. And I cannot imagine what went through those folks’ minds when they made a primal decision. Those news outlets were later criticized for televising the sight, and sound, of bodies hitting cars on the streets below. One newspaper printed a large photo of a man falling head first to his death. There are no words to adequately describe any of this.
Family members of passengers on the two hijacked planes received calls saying goodbye, before they were cut off. There were two other hijacked planes – one crashed into the Pentagon and the other crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Apparently the passengers on that plane, having heard from loved ones on the ground about the previous crashes, tried to overcome the terrorists, thus ending in a fiery crash in PA. Government officials are certain the intended target was the White House.
This is the single most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. It has been compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor. I’ve cried intermittently when O was sleeping or otherwise engaged; it’s all so scary and so unbelievable, and we’re all wondering what’s next? The Twin Towers that defined the New York City skyline, the towers I looked to on my way into the Holland Tunnel as I arrived for school or some other excursion, are gone. Our sense of security – shattered.
All of television is covering these events, engraving the images of horror and destruction into my mind. As I watch my infant son sleeping peacefully on my lap, I am grateful for now that he is too young and oblivious to this attack on America that has halted ALL air traffic in the United States. That night I held him close to me in the darkness of my bedroom, staring at the stars in the eerily quiet night sky, the news drifting to my ears from the TV in the living room. Outside, on the balcony, I hear… nothing. Nothing at all breaks the impossible, deafening silence of the night.
We have not had a reprieve from the constant images. It’s been steady and continuous for 52 hours now. The downtown looks like a war zone. The Stock Exchange is closed. All national sporting events have been postponed. The city itself was shut down Tuesday in the aftermath – no one was getting in or out. The bridges and tunnels were closed in both directions and all rail service, above and below ground, was halted. Thousands of people walked home to Brooklyn and Queens, over the bridges, on foot.
Locally, the King of Prussia Mall was closed and security was tightened at “the highest level” at all nuclear power plants – including our own Limerick generating station, which is scary because we’re less than 15 minutes away.
A third building collapsed – 7 World Trade Center – due to damage from the Twin Towers and uncontrolled fires. Two others are reported to be in danger of collapse.
Raining. Rescuers and volunteers continue to work around the clock, searching inch-by-excruciating-inch for survivors, as they uncover bodies and in some cases only parts of bodies. The rain has turned the rubble into something like the consistency of oatmeal, or quicksand, complicating efforts. We continue to be bombarded non-stop by images of the attacks, the aftermath, and of family members fearfully clutching photos of loved ones they haven’t heard from since Tuesday morning. It’s painful to watch, devastating to behold. Estimates have 4,763 missing.
The news outlets continue to dominate the airwaves, alternating back and forth between local and national anchors, with absolutely no other news unrelated to the terrorist attacks. There have been NO COMMERCIALS – at all – since Tuesday morning before this tragedy. No other programming.
No one has come forward to claim responsibility and, though he has categorically denied any involvement, Osama bin Laden has applauded the acts. Afghanistan, whose citizens were captured on video celebrating the mass destruction, is known to harbor terrorists including bin Laden. This is beginning to sound like the dawn of a new war.
I am frightened. I am angry. I laid down beside my son and watched him sleep, feeling helpless that I could neither explain to him nor protect him from any of this happening again. How can I? It’s scary to think of another war – afraid to watch my son grow up in a world full of such chaos and uncertainty. Afraid of losing friends, family, even myself. How do we move forward after this?
2,974 victims died in the initial attacks. More than 1,400 rescue workers have since died from cancers and other conditions caused by the aforementioned exposure to toxins in the dust (asbestos, lead, mercury) from the collapsed buildings.
No one survived at or above the impact in the North Tower – 1,402 people. In the South Tower, 614 died at/above the level of impact; 18 survived by using stairwell A.
125 died at the Pentagon.
245 died on the four airplanes (not counting the hijackers).