I just saw the top of Trade Two come down
NEW YORK - It was the scene of a nightmare: people on fire jumping in terror from the Trade 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. It's like a war zone."
Others compared it to Pearl Harbor as thousands of people poured off the Brooklyn Bridge, fleeing Manhattan covered in gray dust and debris. Many wore respiratory masks, given by the police and fire departments.
Ambulances screamed down every major thoroughfare in Manhattan, depositing casualties at hospitals and returning to get more. Clusters of people, their hands clutched to their heads in horror, stood at boomboxes set up outside stores to listen to the news. Others gathered around cars, their doors open and radios turned up high.
Looking down West Broadway through billowing brown and black smoke, Tower Two tilted across the street. Ash, two inches deep, lined the streets.
Police and firefighters gasped for air as they emerged from the sealed-off area.
At least three explosions were heard, perhaps from gas lines. Army Humvees whizzed by on their way downtown.
Workers from Trade Center offices wandered lower Manhattan in a daze, many barely able to believe they were alive.
Kenny Johannemann, a janitor, described seeing a man engulfed in flames at One World Trade Center just after the first explosion. He grabbed the man, put the fire out, and dragged him outside. Then Johannemann heard a second explosion -- and saw people jumping from the upper stories of the Twin Towers.
"It was horrendous; I can't describe it," Johannemann said as he stood outside the building.
Donald Burns, 34, was being evacuated from a meeting on the 82nd floor of One World Trade Center, when saw four severely burned people on the stairwell. "I tried to help them but they didn't want anyone to touch them. The fire had melted their skin. Their clothes were tattered," he said.
After the initial blast, Housing Authority worker Barry Jennings, 46, reported to a command center on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center. He was with Michael Hess, the city's corporation counsel, when they felt and heard another explosion. First calling for help, they scrambled downstairs to the lobby, or what was left of it. "I looked around, the lobby was gone. It looked like hell," Jennings said.
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.
As most people fled the area, others were drawn to it -- desperate for information about friends and relatives who worked there.
"I don't know what to do," a weeping Alan Rivera said as he stood behind barricades, hoping for word about his niece, who worked in the Trade Center. "I can't get through to her on the phone. ... No one can tell me anything."
Businessman Gabriel Ioan wept too.
"I just saw the building I work in come down," he said, 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.
"People were jumping out of windows," said an unidentified crying woman. "I guess people were trying to save themselves. Oh my God!"
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.
Throughout lower Manhattan, rescue workers and police officers wore surgical masks to protect them from the dust.
Police, some of them with semiautomatic rifles and dogs, guarded federal and state buildings and prevented anyone from entering.
At the city's hospitals, hundreds lined up to give blood, after hospital workers yelled on the streets, "Blood donations! Blood donations!"
Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan arrived at St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center to comfort the injured; other priests also were on hand, many wearing blue rubber gloves.
Mark Ackermann, chief corporate officer at St. Vincent's, said: "I was here during the World Trade Center bombing (in 1993) and this is a hundred times worse."
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