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Twin Towers Destroyed, 1000's Killed (Reuters)

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Twin Towers Destroyed, 1000's Killed (Reuters)

Old 12th Sep 2001, 07:19
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Post Twin Towers Destroyed, 1000's Killed (Reuters)

Hijacked Planes Destroy Twin Towers, 1,000s Killed

September 11, 2001 09:33 PM EDT

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Reuters Photo
By Alan Elsner and Arthur Spiegelman

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three planes commandeered by unknown hijackers slammed into the Pentagon and New York's landmark World Trade Center on Tuesday, demolishing the twin 110-story towers that were once the tallest buildings in the world and burying thousands of people alive.

It was the worst attack on American soil since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and gave the country a new date that will live in infamy.

The twin towers which symbolize U.S. financial clout were toppled and the Pentagon, the nerve-center of the nation's military might, severely damaged with flames still burning late into Tuesday night.

Addressing the nation after a day of flying across the country, a somber President Bush said, "Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror." That comment was the first official confirmation that thousands had been killed in the day's coordinated carnage.

The president vowed that while "terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings ... they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel but they cannot shatter the steel of American resolve."

He said the search was underway for those responsible and added, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them."


While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicions have centered on an implacable U.S. foe -- exiled Saudi Osama bin Laden, who is being sheltered in Afghanistan by the Taliban government.

Explosions lit up the night sky in the Afghan capital of Kabul and reports said there were missiles flying across the city. But a senior Pentagon official denied U.S. involvement and responsibility for the attack rested with an Afghan opposition group.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the death toll could ultimately be "horrific" and that the city's hospitals were swamped with casualties. Hundreds of firefighters and police are missing and feared dead after trying to rescue others.

Officials feared the death toll could climb into the tens of thousands because as 40,000 people alone worked in the steel and glass Trade Center towers and a nearby 47-story building, World Trade Center No. 7, which collapsed seven hours later after a raging fire. A hotel in the complex was also reported to have collapsed.

It was a day of horror, in which people jumped out windows scores of stories above the ground to avoid being burned alive or buried in tons of steel.

A man who answered the phone on the trading floor of broker Cantor Fitzgerald located near the top of the World Trade Center said, "We are f***ing dying!" when asked what was happening. There was screaming and yelling in the background.

The entire nation was brought to a halt by scenes of terrified people fleeing the mayhem flashing across TV screens. The mighty twin towers, anchoring the southern tip of Manhattan imploded one at a time, sending a massive plume of dust and smoke billowing over the city.


World leaders condemned the attack. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the strikes a "declaration of war against the civilized world."

The attacks, which involved the hijacking of four commercial planes -- two from Boston, one each from Newark and Dulles, outside Washington -- brought normal life across the country to a standstill, turning major cities into eerie ghost towns. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that least one of the planes was commandeered by hijackers armed with knives.

All financial markets were closed and millions of workers sent home early. All commercial flights were canceled and all airports shut in an unprecedented move. For the first time since D-Day, major league baseball games were canceled.

The crisis began shortly before 9 a.m. when the first plane slammed into the north tower in the heart of New York's financial district, opening a massive hole near the top.

A second plane followed 15 minutes later, scoring a direct hit on the south tower. Minutes later came the report of a third kamikaze attack on the Pentagon, in Northern Virginia across the Potomac from Washington. That building, too, burst into flames.

Then came the deadliest blow of all as first one and then the second of New York's twin towers collapsed with a roar in a burst of smoke, fire and metal.

The towers -- which opened for business amid great fanfare in 1975 -- briefly claimed the title of the world's tallest buildings but were soon surpassed by the Sears Tower in Chicago. The towers became one of New York's best-known landmarks, rivaling the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

Not knowing if more attacks were on the way, authorities evacuated landmarks like the White House, the Pentagon, the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Walt Disney theme parks.

It was the worst attack on American soil since Japanese war planes bombed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killing 2,280 soldiers and 68 civilians and forcing the United States into World War Two.


Authorities said at least 266 people were on board four hijacked planes -- two that crashed into the twin towers, one that slammed into the Pentagon and a fourth that crashed in a wooded area near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

"I looked outside and saw a big chunk of the World Trade Center missing," said Verizon employee Ellen Leon. "Fifteen minutes later I saw people jumping out of the building. Bodies were flying out. I don't know if they were already dead or if they were just going to die."

The attacks triggered scenes of panic, disbelief and heroism in the largest U.S. city, where police and firefighters risked their lives to save people from the twin towers before its 200,000 tons of steel frame and 43,000 windows came smashing down. A police source said unconfirmed reports indicated there 265 firefighters and 85 policemen feared dead.

"Hundreds of people are burned from head to toe," said Dr. Steven Stern at St. Vincent's Hospital in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of lower Manhattan. Rescue workers used commuter ferries to carry victims across the Hudson River to safety in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the scene resembled a war zone, with victims laid out on stretchers, limping on crutches, and others walking without a shirt and with their pants torn.

Disaster relief agencies said they were working with the military to rush thousands of pints of blood to New York City and Washington to treat an untold number of injuries from aerial hijack attacks in those cities.

Foreign financial markets fell sharply on news of the attacks. The London FTSE index plummeted 5.7 percent and Latin American markets tumbled. Oil prices spiked up. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the attack but some Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and in Lebanon celebrated.

Bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire and Islamic militant, was blamed for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in which 224 people died.

An Arab journalist with access to bin Laden told Reuters in London the renegade Saudi had warned three weeks ago of an "unprecedented attack" on U.S. interests.
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