A massive rescue operation is underway, with searchers and investigators sifting through mountains of rubble from the 110-story twin towers that collapsed after two hijacked planes crashed into them.
“The best estimate that we can make, relying on the Port Authority and just everyone else who has experience with this, is that there will be a few thousand people left in each building. Our recovery and relief efforts and our work with the medical examiner are premised on those kinds of numbers,” Mayor Giuliani said.
This afternoon, four stories of what remained of the World Trade Center’s south tower collapsed. Police evacuated rescue teams, who had worked through the night to search for victims inside the wreckage. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Fifty-thousand people normally report to work in the towers, but many had not yet arrived at work when the first plane crash occurred. Officials estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 people were inside. Many rushed down dozens of flights of stairs before the second jet hit and the towers collapsed.
A police officer was rescued this morning, bringing the total individuals officially rescued to four. At least 202 firefighters were still missing, however, and 259 uniformed service members had not been accounted for.
Among those who lost their lives were three top fire department officials including the chief and deputy chief. Ray Downey, chief of special operations command and led a team of New York firefighters to Oklahoma City in 1995 after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, also died in the collapse.
Officials report 1,600 emergency room visits at New York’s 170 hospitals so far, 200 of them by critically wounded people. Over 2,000 “walking wounded” were evacuated by ferry across the Hudson River to New Jersey.
Much of lower Manhattan, a center of world finance that includes Wall Street and the stock exchanges, remains cordoned off. Smoke from several fires that are still burning is drifting north into mid- and upper-Manhattan.
Doctors from St. Vincent’s Hospital were allowed into ground zero of the wreckage, returning with dismal reports of the possibilities for more survivors.
Authorities also led journalists through the wreckage Wednesday morning. Many had to wear masks due to the coarse, sawdust-like powder — a mixture of pulverized concrete, insulation and paper — that filled the air. Streets were blanketed with several inches of thick gray dust; expense accounts, jotted memos and ledger sheets also covered the ground.
City paramedic Louis Garcia told the Associated Press: “There’s two feet of soot everywhere, and a lot of the vehicles are running over bodies because they are all over the place.”
The military paroled the area Wednesday. Off shore, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington took up duty.
New York’s Democratic and Republican mayoral primary elections, scheduled for Tuesday, have been postponed indefinitely.
Mayor Giuliani, who is not seeking reelection, has been on the streets since the attack occurred. He said the city’s next focus will be “economic recovery.”
“We’re not only going to rebuild, we’re going to come out stronger than we were before, and in addition to having wonderful people in the city … we also have the strongest business community of anywhere in the world, and we’re going to call on them,” Giuliani said.