50,000 worked in towers each day
NEW YORK -- Government officials estimated that the loss of life from Tuesday's attacks is likely to be horrendous -- as many as 50,000 people could have been in the 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center.
According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the complex, some 50,000 people went to work in the towers each day, and another 90,000 people visited them.
Emergency and public officials said it would take days to reach a death toll.
An estimated 200 firefighters may have died and as many as 80 police officers were reportedly also missing after the attacks.
"We're going to have to bury a lot of people," said Mike Carter, vice president of the firefighters union.
Carter estimated that half of the 400 firefighters who first reached the scene may be dead.
New York's Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan -- who administered last rites to a dozen victims -- said the firefighters and police were "dead in great numbers."
By early Tuesday afternoon, downtown was cordoned off and a huge rescue effort was under way. Gov. George Pataki mobilized the National Guard to help, and hundreds of volunteers and medical workers converged on triage centers, offering services and blood.
"I hope we get patients," said medical student Eddie Campbell, who rushed to help at one of the centers.
"But they're not coming out. They're in there," he said, pointing down the street to where the World Trade Center once stood.
Eight hours after the catastrophe began, hundreds of firefighters sat on the West Side Highway or leaned against their rigs, waiting for orders to go into the leveled skyscrapers and search for what they feared would be hundreds of bodies -- including many colleagues.
"This is going to hurt," said Jack Gerber, a 43-year-old Brooklyn firefighter. "A lot of guys got killed today."
He said that after the first building collapsed, surviving firefighters passed cell phones around to tell their loved ones they were alive.
- Information from Scripps Howard News Service was used in this report.
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