Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2001 / 24 Elul, 5761
Suddenly Tuesday morning, in the smoke that covered the sun, and in the flames coming in red-orange tongues between the silvery panels of the high floors of the building, that is over a street of people who are looking up at the smoke and fire and sound a loud moan. They look at the building top as they start running away.
The windows of the building do not open and the stairwells inside the building have no effect on smoke except to let it rise at an extraordinary speed.
There is a rumble that shakes the sky and the street. Now there is screaming. Suddenly, the top of the World Trade Center south tower blows up. Twenty stories, 30 stories. Maybe thousands died. The top of the tower blows up in fire and thick smoke. The top of the tower collapses into the smoke.
Debris comes out of the black smoke and is hanging in the air for an instant. Silvery pieces of the side of the building. Glass in shards. Then everything comes down and hits the street and starts flying like bullets you can see.
The World Trade Center Tower Two is no more.
The cops and firefighters who are closest to the building are running. The people on the street are running.
Now this crowded street runs for their lives from black smoke carrying debris that rolls up the street after them.
What is the street? Liberty Street, probably. Who knows names right now. The street is on the block with the World Trade Center Tower Two. Forty stories of the building turn into smoke in everybody's face.
The people run. They spin into the doors of any open shop. "Get out, I'm closed. I'm closed. I'm closed," one shopkeeper yells. His assistant is reaching for the overhead aluminum grating.
"Smoke!" somebody screams, trying to get into a shop.
"No, no," the shopkeeper says.
Everywhere cops are waving their arms. Keep moving, run, run.
Jim O'Neill, a firefighter, stands around the corner. He gets out. He just does get out of the building.
"We were on a run," he says. "We went right away. There were dead bodies in the lobby. We got to the 20th floor. There was another explosion. The chief said, 'Out.' We're out three minutes. It went down."
His voice drops. "I have one grown daughter. She's in college in Baltimore." He cries and rubs his eyes.
"I love her."
A woman is down on the street with a small circle of people trying to help.
"Asthma," somebody says.
"Smoke," somebody calls. There is more running and pushing.
There is a gasp. High in the sky a person is in the air. The arms flail. He is coming from 90, maybe 100 stories up. There are fires below him and behind and somebody says the flames are on his body and he goes through the air with arms flailing and dropping, dropping, dropping until he is no more.
There is another gasp and another form in the sky, with the arms flailing and dropping, dropping, dropping and then no more.
A cameraman says they saw 13 of these people going.
Around on Chambers Street there is another rumble that makes the sky shake and the street quiver. Nobody can see the second building exploding from here. They fear debris flying down and they dive into doorways or race up the street.
The smoke turns the street into night.
World Trade Center Tower One is no more.
The buildings weigh 1,250,000 tons and sit on a foundation that is 70 feet below the Hudson River and its 5-foot tides. There is a bathtub that is 3,400 feet long. The foundation was pierced with 100-foot holes of 6 inches in diameter, through the bathtub wall, through earth on the other side of the bathtub, and then 30 feet deep into billion-year-old Manhattan schist.
The foundation and beams held off a bombing by Jersey City cab drivers in 1993. Yesterday they could not withstand an attack by U.S. domestic airliners.
A cop covered with gray collapse dust talks numbly.
"Dead," he says. "How many do you think?"
He closes his eyes. "G-d knows."
The first lists speak of 200 dead firefighters and 78 cops. The City of Courage.
The superintendent at No. 150 opens the door. It is a small lobby and the guy waves everybody into the back, which is a staircase. People are couched on the stairs. A young woman holds a child who has hair the color of corn. Big blue eyes look around.
A maintenance man comes up the stairs and hands everybody wet towels for use in breathing.
"I was on the 15th floor," the mother says. "We're looking out the window and I saw the plane. I say to the baby, 'See the plane?' He looks out and shakes his head. Yes, plane. See the plane? Then the plane went right into the building."
Now on all the streets the police are pushing people to the north, to start them walking on the long march from a day's work that turns into the first day of war.
They walk to the shriek of sirens and with water bottles in their hands. They walk out of the last smoke and into hot sunlight. The streets are becoming more crowded as buildings empty and the war refugees of New York march to the north. The crowds were thick in front of St. Vincents Hospital and Medical Center at 12th Street, where the sidewalk in front of the emergency room entrance is lined with gurneys and nurses and doctors and attendants and with screams.
The first ambulances are coming around the corner and cops rush and hands reach and ambulance doors fly open and the workers struggle to get the first injured onto the gurneys on the sidewalk.
"We're nurses who want to volunteer," a woman calls out from the crowd.
"You got ID?" a cops says.
Two nurses hand him paper.
He waves them on and they run to where the wounded are being unloaded.
Around the corner people are lined up to give blood. All year you have to beg
people to give blood. Tuesday the man at St. Vincents asks the crowd to
please stand in line and not be impatient.