America's bloodiest day
Many run from, jump from World Trade Center towers
By Donna De La Cruz
NEW YORK As the twin giants of the skyline crumbled from their 110-story grandeur to five stories of rubble, survivors coughing up dust and eyes glazed with terror fled across bridges or simply ran through streets piling up with debris.
The lucky ones got out alive but will carry scars on their memories forever.
Clemant Lewin, a banker, said he looked from his window across the street from the towers and saw people jumping from the 80th floor. A man and woman held hands as they plunged to the pavement.
"I'm traumatized for life," Lewin said. "Someone needs to take responsibility for this. This was somebody's father, this was somebody's sister, somebody's mother. We should have seen this coming. I'm disgusted."
Soon after the first terrorist-controlled jetliner sliced into one of the towers, an elevator door opened inside and there stood a man on fire.
Kenny Johannemann, a janitor, said he and another grabbed the burning man, put out the fire and dragged him outdoors. Johannemann said he then heard the second explosion and looked up. He, too, saw people jumping from windows high up in the buildings.
"It was horrendous. I can't describe it," Johannemann said.
The two buildings stood proudly erect, but not for long.
Well before the 50,000 people who report for work in the buildings daily would have taken lunch breaks, the landmarks telescoped down upon themselves into chunks of blackened concrete and jagged steel girders jutting only 50 feet above the street.
For blocks around, the streets became rivers of water, oil and soot. A heavy blanket of ash, seen from miles away, hovered over lower Manhattan and showered down miles away to the east in the borough of Brooklyn.
Crumpled police cars and fire trucks with their roofs smashed, their windows blown out dotted a trail away from the horror.
Thomas Warren, a paralegal, said he found a man dazed and stumbling out of the area wearing shoes that did not match. He had lost his in the blast and grabbed any that were handy.
As workers cleared some of the rubble, new crews of firefighters and rescue workers charged into the devastation with shovels, pick axes and flashlights to look for bodies or survivors.
A union official said he feared 300 firefighters who first reached the scene had died in rescue efforts and dozens of police officers were missing.
Survivors among the first group of firefighters emerged, exhausted and looking for water their clothing powdered with white ash.
They said body parts and people clinging to life were strewn among the mountains of concrete, glass, steel, office furniture and paper.
"It looks like downtown Beirut," firefighter Robbie Rachoi said. "It looks like something that shouldn't have happened here."
Robert James, manager of a sporting goods store near the complex, was in the basement when he heard the explosion. He said he came above ground to see at least five bodies fall from the skyscraper.
"They looked like rag dolls," he said. "It was like the kind of thing you see in movies."
Boris Ozersky, 47, a computer networks analyst, was on the 70th floor of one of the buildings when he felt an explosion rock it. He raced down 70 flights of stairs. Once outside amid a crowed in front of a nearby hotel he said he was trying to calm a panicked woman as 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 located her.
Throughout lower Manhattan, rescue workers and police officers wore surgical masks to protect them from the dust.
At the city's hospitals, hundreds lined up to give blood, after hospital workers yelled on the streets, "Blood donations! Blood donations!"
Firefighter Rudy Weindler, covered in the soot of 12 hours on duty at the wreckage, said he had found only four survivors.
"I lost count of all the dead people I saw," Weindler said. "It is absolutely worse than you could ever imagine."
Thousands upon thousands fled the city, streaming across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges on foot, some sobbing, others covered head-to-toe in gray soot and ashes.
With no buses, taxis or subways, the throng was left with no way home but on foot.
Businessmen walked across the Brooklyn Bridge stripped to the waist, their button-down shirts pressed over their faces against the smoke and dust.
Passing cell phones back and forth when the rare call went through, desperate strangers called to each other: "Can you get out?"
A woman pleaded: "Can you call my mother? This is her number."
Another yelled: "How do I get to Queens?"
"Start walking," a police officer yelled back.