- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

NEW YORK — A billowing black mushroom cloud, tilting toward the East River and backlit by the sun, fumed over Manhattan yesterday as New Yorkers — running, sobbing, holding on to strangers — sought to understand the enormity of the catastrophe that had befallen them.
Others walked silently in the many streets blocked to traffic as an endless caravan of emergency vehicles, sirens screaming, rushed to the site of what was once the World Trade Center. The rescuers themselves wore the thousand-yard stare of combat fatigue as they worked feverishly to aid the injured and remove the dead.
"We could see bodies coming down from the building. I counted eight of them myself," said Al Gaetani Jr., a New Jersey electrician, who from the eighth floor of a nearby building where he was working, saw the second plane hit the tower. "People were on fire, crying and screaming. It was like the end of the world coming," said his friend Hector Nieves of Long Island.
A surreal quality engulfed the brightness of this balmy day as news of the attacks spread. Shock, disbelief, and then anger seemed the emotional order of the day. "How can this happen here?" yelled a Mongolian-born cabdriver. "In New York? How can this happen?"
Restaurants set up water stands for weary passers-by, many of them choking on soot. Taxis took pity on the old and young. Most shops closed. But on street corners everywhere, people congregated to talk about what had happened. Many wondered aloud about how horrific the death toll would be. At one point, a phalanx of iron workers in hard hats who had been working in the area marched uptown in search of a place to donate their blood.
Most city buses were commandeered to transport the police and emergency workers, and a call went out for retired officers to report for duty. Jesus Vasquez, an ambulance driver, was sitting on a stoop with his co-worker, both of them exhausted and dirty. Mr. Vasquez had been trapped in his ambulance by the falling debris. Both men hugged the wall as they ran for safety. His EMS partner, Mike Brunetti, said he "grabbed a guy with a broken leg" and went to a church for shelter. "I guess we were praying," he said.
Ashmead Pollard, a Deutsche Bank employee, said: "When the first explosion happened, I was praying to God and we went to the firehouse for protection. When the second one hit, we started to run."
William French, a stock exchange clerk, was literally one of the walking wounded. He staggered from the scene with a bandage on his left eye. He had arrived at the WTC Pathe subway station just as the first plane found its mark. By the time he reached the street level, he heard the alarms go off, saw the debris coming down around him, and a plane heading for the second tower. "Life isn't safe for any of us," he said.
Chris Colon, who works for Salomon Smith Barney on the 43rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, had just arrived in his office. He said at 8:45 a.m. he felt the vibration of the first explosion. "The windows were warping and one of the traders saw the first explosion." They all ran down the stairs to the street, where ,he said, part of a wing from one of the planes was lying on the ground. "We saw about 20 people, one by one, jumping out of the towers. There were flames all around," he added.
A grave Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani briefed reporters at St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village, where many of the casualties were taken. He told reporters that he was standing outside an emergency command center at 75 Barclay Street and witnessed the second plane hit one of the WTC towers.
For some time, he added, the police and fire commissioners and other city officials were trapped inside the building as debris began raining down on them.
The mayor said a morgue had been set up near the piers on Manhattan's West Side. "We told the president that the whole rescue effort would take a week or more, but the main focus is to save as many lives as possible."
Howard Goldstein, a stockbroker from New Jersey, was walking alone down a deserted street; but for the soot and asbestos dust that covered his suit, tie and briefcase, he looked like a businessman leaving his office. Mr. Goldstein, ashen-faced, was nearby at 1 Liberty Plaza when he saw the second explosion. "I ran for my life," he said. "I hid under a food delivery truck because the debris was falling on top of us." I couldn't breathe. I thought I was dead."
With many, the numbness had passed, and anger was all they could express at the unprecedented disaster.
"It's about time we get those sons of ," said a waitress standing outside a coffee shop on the upper East Side.
"They'll never find them," replied a man waiting in line for one of the few working public telephones.
"It's a sad day to be an American," said one driver from his car stopped at a traffic light." Shaking his head in disbelief, he added, "Both towers are gone. Kill. Kill them all. The Iranians, the terrorists, all of them. Let's go to war."
Anger permeated the city as dark memories of an earlier time in America's history — Pearl Harbor — came to the minds of many who witnessed the carnage.
A passer-by remembered that during that sneak attack, Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, surveying the devastation, proclaimed: "I fear we have only awakened a sleeping giant."


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