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96 hours

Tuesday started out as a day like any other in New York City. Then the whole world changed.

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Maya Carmosino, 4, peers through a fence full of ribbons a few blocks from the ruins of the World Trade Center.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 16, 2001


8:48 a.m. -- It was a crisp, gorgeous morning, and Jacqueline Filsaime lingered outside P.S. 234 with her son Nicholas, 5, as he began his first full day of kindergarten. A few blocks away, glittering in the sun, loomed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the sight by which millions of New Yorkers and visitors alike had oriented themselves for the past 28 years.

Few, if any, at P.S. 234 saw the first plane hit. But as dense black smoke billowed from the north tower, Filsaime and the other parents instinctively grabbed their children and started to leave.

"Go indoors," the principal urged. "You'll be safe."

Obediently, reluctantly, they stayed. Exactly 15 minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the south tower. Everyone saw that one hit -- parents, teachers, kids.

"Mommy, mommy," Nicholas said excitedly. "I think the plane ran out of fuel."

Filsaime knew better. This time, she took her son's hand and began to run.

* * *

9 A.M. -- Shawn Martinez, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, was at home in the Bronx when a relative called him to the TV -- a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. The center wasn't far from the college, but Martinez didn't think there would be any problem getting downtown by subway.

The train, which was so crowded Martinez had to stand, made it as far as Spring Street in lower Manhattan. Then it came to an abrupt halt. One woman began to scream. Other passengers started to sweat and squirm. Martinez was terrified. He didn't want to die down here, in the bowels of the city.

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Su Quinn, an artist, stands at the corner of Greenwich and Duane streets wearing a Statue of Liberty costume that she made herself.

* * *

9:10 A.M. -- Joe Trombino, a Brinks guard, called his dispatcher from the basement of the north tower. He could see water leaking into the basement. "Something's happening," he said. "What should I do?"

Though he was just 100 feet from an exit, Trombino, 68, decided to stay with the truck and its cargo of securities.

* * *

9:15 A.M. -- As the inferno raged behind them, Filsaime and Nicholas made it to their 39-story apartment building on Harrison Street, eight blocks from the Trade Center. But they were afraid to go inside -- was somebody targeting other high-rises?

Instead, they joined a growing crowd on the corner, where they had a clear view down Greenwich Street of the fires now consuming both towers. They had a clear view, too, of the awful sight that Filsaime shielded from her son's eyes -- tiny figures, some in flames, leaping from the burning buildings to the street 80, 90, 100 stories below.

Horrified, unable to look away, Filsaime watched as body after body plunged to earth. Then there were no more bodies, just an enormous cloud of dust and smoke as the south tower collapsed, followed 29 minutes later by the north tower.

"It's like a volcano," Filsaime thought, as the cloud boiled up, far into the sky, and raced through the streets. For the second time in two hours, Filsaime grabbed her little boy's hand and began to run.

* * *

9:30 A.M. -- Craig Allen, a professional photographer, had been walking to his office in SoHo, just north of the financial district, when he heard a commercial jet so low overhead he thought it was about to land. Allen ran home, grabbed a better camera and hurried to the roof of his apartment building. He was shooting pictures as the second plane hit.

He clicked a few more frames, then froze. He saw what looked like debris falling from the burning towers, just black shapes with arms and legs. He put his camera down.

"I was shooting this and I realized I was waiting for people to fall with a camera at my eye," he later told friends.

"I just couldn't do it anymore."

* * *

10:28 A.M. -- Trombino, the Brinks guard, was still with his truck when the second tower collapsed. Joe Trombino was never seen again.

* * *

11 A.M. -- Martinez and other passengers on the C train tried to make the best of it. They calmed down the hysterical woman. They frequently switched positions, so those standing got a chance to sit. At last, after two hours, transit workers managed to connect their train with several others, allowing passengers to walk from car to car to the nearest station.

Martinez had never been so glad to see daylight. Even if it didn't look like daylight any more.

[AP photo]
Amanda Spangher, a tourist from Australia, looks toward downtown from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, now the city's tallest building.

* * *

3 P.M. -- As he watched the terrible scenes on TV, Dr. Paul Cordero had no doubt that thousands of medical personnel would be needed. "In times like this you do what you have to do," he thought, so he left his apartment in Yonkers and headed for St. Vincent's, the hospital nearest the Trade Center.

It was hard going. Police had closed off all streets, so he abandoned his car. Cordero flagged down a vehicle with flashing lights and hitched a ride after showing his doctor's I.D.

By the time he reached St. Vincent's, dozens of other doctors already had arrived to volunteer their services. They were ushered into two large rooms, where they waited until a casualty was brought in.

Occasionally a call would go out: "We need plastics and an orthopod" -- plastic surgeons and orthopedists. Cordero, an internist, waited and waited but was never called.

Finally, after five hours, an awful reality hit him. There simply weren't many survivors to treat.

* * *

7:30 P.M. -- As detectives in the organized crime division of the New York City Police Department, Brendan Finn and Jack Feminella usually dressed in coat and tie. Now they were in gloves, dungarees and work boots, about to join thousands of other rescuers to dig through what was left of the World Trade Center.

The entire area was covered with so much white-ish gray soot it looked like a nuclear winter. As the detectives trudged in, they saw five people -- a firefighter, two fellow cops and a civilian -- being carried out on stretchers. One man's clothing was in shreds.

The work went agonizingly slow. They would dig and remove, dig and remove, only to come to nothing but a flower pot or a lamp post, showing they had yet to get any farther than a building's entrance. Tons of steel and concrete still separated them from survivors inside, if there were any.

Finn and Feminella felt like strangers in a strange land. For as long as they could remember, the towers of the World Trade Center had been there, defining and anchoring the southern tip of Manhattan. With the towers gone, the detectives couldn't tell where they were. Did Sam Goody's, the record store, used to be here? Or was it over there? Who knew anymore.

They worked all through the night. As they finally prepared to take a break, they saw a fire truck, its windows smashed, its hoses torn off, its lights broken, the front bumper covered with debris. Amazingly, it was still running. As it slowly drove away, the detectives stared at the filthy, exhausted faces of the firefighters aboard and thought they had never seen anything so poignant. The men were obviously grieved to have lost so many comrades yet their faces reflected a quiet pride in the heroic job they had done that day and night.

"It's like something out of "Private Ryan,' " Finn told Feminella.

* * *

11 p.m. -- A tattered blanket of cement dust shrouded a Port Authority Police truck sitting on West Street, seven blocks north of ground zero. Holes gaped in the crumpled windshield. Streamers of white paper jammed the grill, headlight sockets, the crushed light bar on the roof.

Anthony Rivera of the Port Authority's Emergency Services Unit stood looking at the truck. "This guy was on one of the ramps of the World Trade Center," he said, "and everything just blew up on him, and they don't know where he is. They saw the place was on fire, they knew the plane hit it, and they went in anyway.

"Nobody expected that damned thing to fall," said Rivera. "So the guys went in and started getting people out.

"We lost guys with 20, 15 years on the job -- guys with children, babies."


8 A.M. -- Malachi Sheahan, a Boston surgeon, arrived with a medical team and headed straight for the rescue site. On TV, the scene had looked surreal; now, seeing it in person, it was even more unbelievable.

"I don't think anyone in this country has ever seen anything like this," Sheahan thought to himself. It had been 24 hours since the attack on the Trade Center, and thousands of people remain trapped inside. There were indications some were still alive, but Sheahan knew they would have severe injuries that would require the most skilled emergency care if they were to survive. But he noticed that here at ground zero there seemed to be far more doctors than survivors.

* * *

2 P.M. -- After finishing his regular shift, Newark, N.J., firefighter Ernie Hammer did what hundreds of firefighters all over the Northeast were doing. He went to the World Trade Center and began to help dig.

It didn't take long before Hammer began to feel he was engaged in a futile endeavor. He kept hitting rebar, wire and steel -- if anybody was still alive in there, the process was too slow going to get them out. What was needed was heavy equipment to lift off the I-beams and clear away the outer layers of debris.

Still, Hammer managed to find one victim. It was a man, dead. His face was recognizable but his body was so mangled that his intestines were spilling out. Hammer was able to keep his professional detachment; as awful as this was, seeing adults had never bothered him as much as children. But some of the other firefighters took one look and started to vomit.

* * *

2:30 P.M. -- Carol Fertig had had enough. Since Tuesday's attack on the Trade Center, she'd been toughing it out in her apartment a few blocks away. The phone didn't work, there was no hot water and the only TV station she could pick up was one from Newark, on an old TV set with rabbit ears she had hauled out of the closet after the cable failed. And the smoke, even inside, was so bad her throat was raspy and her eyes were watering.

Fertig, who designs corporate logos, felt too isolated to stay any longer. It was time for her and the animals to go to a friend's place uptown. She put Otis, the cat, in a carrier and snapped a leash on Violet, her English bull terrier.

"I feel like I'm in a movie," she told the elevator operator as she left, pulling a red bandana over her nose and mouth. "I don't know if my emotions are real emotion or movie emotions."

* * *

3 P.M. -- Like Fertig, Jacqueline Filsaime felt she was living in a war zone. Called Tribeca -- Triangle Below Canal Street -- this had been a vibrant neighborhood of trendy shops and restaurants. Now most of it was without power and virtually every business was closed. Filsaime, an artist, had to walk all the way to 14th Street, more than a mile, to get milk for her son Nicholas.

She and her husband, a biochemist, decided to send the boy to Queens to temporarily stay with his grandmother. Luckily, he was too young to realize what had happened, or to be scared.

"I want to be a pilot," he kept telling his mother," so I can make sure my plane doesn't run out of fuel."

* * *

4 P.M. -- Sheahan, the Boston surgeon, had now been at the rescue site for eight hours, and his team hadn't treated a single survivor. Their blue surgical scrubs didn't show a speck of dirt -- or blood.

Like Cordero, the internist, Sheahan was coming to a sad realization. Apart from some rescuers injured in the course of duty, there just weren't many people left to help.

* * *

4:30 P.M. -- It looked like a street fair outside St. Vincent's, as doctors and nurses moved among tables laden with pizza, sandwiches and other food donated by restaurants and Village residents.

Dan Doccetti, a lawyer, arrived with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Like all New Yorkers, he was proud of the outpouring of support from the public and the leadership shown by Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki. And like many New Yorkers, Doccetti had a harrowing tale to tell.

A friend of his had been married in June to a lawyer who worked on the 101st floor of the south tower. After the first plane hit, she and her secretary started down a stairwell, pausing at a landing on 78. A man grabbed the lawyer and shoved her into an elevator; her secretary was continuing down the stairs when the second plane hit the south tower.

Miraculously, the elevator made it to the ground floor and the lawyer walked out unhurt. Her secretary was never seen again.


5:30 a.m. -- Ten people sat in chairs in the intersection of Sixth Avenue and West Houston Street. Some wore paper masks to fend off the haze in the air. They made it their mission to applaud every police car, every truck, every person that passed by on the way south.

Behind them a makeshift shrine of roses and candles was assembled at the base of a street lamp. This vigil had begun at 8 p.m. the night before.

* * *

7:30 a.m. -- The brown-haired and ponytailed Sai-Ying Lin led a Tai Chi class through its slow and graceful motions under a canopy of trees in Columbus Park. A spare, haunting melody played on a boom box as the light came up over Chinatown.

Normally 50 to 60 attend the class but on this day there were less than a dozen. One was Bobby Lee. Silver-haired, 80 years old, he wore a dark patterned handkerchief over his nose and mouth.

"Now I think about somebody," he said after the class. "My family all are safe. But I think of other families.... I watch television, I cry with my wife.

"This is a wonderful country and people want to ruin it. How many people suffer? How many families suffer? A lot of policemen, they want to help.

"I can't sleep. I think about it. I know all the children -- three, four, five years old -- are looking for their parents."

He took the handkerchief and wiped his eyes. "What can I do? I'm an old man. I wish I could do anything."

Lee is a regular in the Tai Chi class. "Yesterday I can't do it," he said. "My foot was too heavy. I couldn't pick it up. I don't know why."

* * *

11 p.m. -- Detectives Finn and Feminella were back at the site, still digging, still finding no one.

Finn, a 20-year veteran of the department, felt completely numb. He had never been in a war, but he imagined this is what it would be like. Nothing else mattered. Every day, your only goal was to survive.


10 A.M. -- Three days after the attack, police were finally allowing traffic past 14th Street in lower Manhattan. The Army-Navy store on Canal Street reopened for the first time since Tuesday.

Flags, insignias, patches, pins -- anything patriotic was flying out the door.

In a typical week, manager Jay Ward said, the store sells 20 red, white and blue bandanas at $2 each. In five hours Thursday, it sold 1,000.

* * *

7:30 P.M. -- Stephanie Alexander and Dawn Beckman, musicians from Los Angeles, had been trying to get back to California ever since the hip-hop show in which they were to appear was canceled Tuesday.

They had reservations on Delta, but Beckman was too scared to fly. So they called Amtrak, only to find they couldn't get seats until Sept. 30. Nor were they able to rent a car. They finally decided to go Greyhound, on a bus that left Friday evening and was due to arrive in L.A. at 4 a.m. Monday.

When they got to the Port Authority terminal, there were so many other passengers that Greyhound had added five more L.A.-bound buses. Alexander and Beckman took one look at the mob scene and decided they'd stay a few more days at the Hilton Times Square.

"We went at 6:15 to get the 7 p.m. bus, and it was a madhouse," Alexander said. "We stood and looked at the bus and said, "no way, let's go back to the hotel.' "


8:30 A.M. -- Ella Mae McCaskill, 77, climbed slowly up the steps to the National Guard Armory on the east side of Manhattan. In her hand she held a toothbrush, a hair pick and a pair of underwear belonging to her youngest son, Stanley, a 47-year-old security guard who worked on the 93rd floor of the north tower.

McCaskill gave the items to the man from the medical examiner's office, who asked her for one more thing -- a sample of her own saliva.

"They wanted my DNA," she said. "I gave them myself."

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