Hundreds were apparently killed aboard the jets, and untold numbers were feared dead in the rubble. Thousands were injured in New York alone.
Authorities had been trying to evacuate those who work in the twin towers when the glass-and-steel skyscrapers came down in a thunderous roar within about 90 minutes after the attacks, which took place minutes apart around 9 a.m. But many people were thought to have been trapped. About 50,000 people work at the Trade Center and tens of thousands of others visit each day.
People on fire leaped from the windows to certain death, including a man and a woman holding hands. Some jumped from as high as the 80th floor as the planes exploded into fireballs. People on the ground screamed and dived for cover as debris rained down. Dazed office workers covered in dirt wandered around like ghosts, weeping, trying to make sense of what happened.
By early afternoon, the downtown area was cordoned off and a rescue effort was under way. Hundreds of volunteers and medical workers converged on triage centers, offering help and blood. Paramedics waiting to be sent into the rubble were told that ``once the smoke clears, it's going to be massive bodies,'' said Brian Stark, a former Navy paramedic who volunteered to help.
He said the paramedics had been told that hundreds of police and firefighters are missing from the ranks of those sent in to respond to the first crash.
In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said 2,100 people were injured - 1,500 ``walking wounded,'' and 600 others who were taken to area hospitals, 150 of them in critical condition. It could take weeks to dig through the rubble for victims.
``I have a sense it's a horrendous number of lives lost,'' Giuliani said. ``Right now we have to focus on saving as many lives as possible.''
Hours after the attacks, huge clouds of smoke billowed from the ruins, obscuring much of the skyline.
The two planes blasted fiery, gaping holes in the upper floors of one of New York's most famous landmarks and rained debris on the streets. About an hour later, the southern tower collapsed with a roar and a huge cloud of smoke; the other tower fell about a half-hour after that, covering lower Manhattan in heaps of gray rubble and broken glass.
On the street, a crowd mobbed a man at a pay phone, screaming at him to get off the phone so that they could call relatives. Dust and dirt flew everywhere. Ash was 2 to 3 inches deep in places. People wandered dazed and terrified.
John Axisa, who was getting off a commuter train to the World Trade Center, said he saw ``bodies falling out'' of the building. He said he ran outside, and watched people jump out of the first building. Then there was a second explosion, and he felt heat on the back of neck.
David Reck was handing out literature for a candidate for public advocate a few blocks away when he saw a jet come in ``very low, and then it made a slight twist and dove into the building.''
People ran down the stairs in panic and fled the building. Thousands of pieces of what appeared to be office paper drifted over Brooklyn, about three miles away.
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