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N.Y. burn victims face long recovery

burn victim
Doctors treat one of the victims of Tuesday's attacks in New York.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Manu Dhingra survived the attack on the World Trade Center earlier this week, but Sunday, lying in a hospital bed, he faced a long, painful road to recovery.

Dhingra was engulfed in a fireball from the crash of one of the hijacked planes Tuesday and suffered burns over most of his body.

Like others who were severely burned by a fire sparked by the jet fuel as the crashed planes turned the buildings into infernos, he was just beginning his work day Tuesday on the 83rd floor of the north tower, the one that was struck first.

"All of a sudden, as I was walking down the hallway and I heard a door explode and this large ball of fire just engulfed me," he said from his hospital bed at the Cornell Burn Center where all those burned in the attack are being treated. "I just froze. I didn't do anything. I just stood there."

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Dhingra was among thousands of people inside the twin towers when two hijacked airliners struck the buildings Tuesday. A third hijacked airliner heavily damaged the Pentagon. A fourth airliner crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania, apparently after a passenger revolt thwarted the hijackers.

Dhingra said after he realized he was burned he fell to the ground screaming, only to be helped from the building by another person.

"I don't know how, but I jumped up and started running downstairs," he said. "People were very nice. They saw that I was burned and let me go in front of them."

Ling Young said she believes she was the last person to escape the tower before it collapsed. She was trying to save her boss, who had suffered a broken leg in the attack.

Young said she was waiting to take an elevator down. When the doors opened, a fireball incinerated several people waiting to get on. She finally made her way to the stairs and out of the building.

"I hear myself saying, 'Let's go,'" she recounted tearfully. "After we turned the corner the whole building collapsed. I'm very, very lucky. But any of my friends still up on the 70th floor either got crushed or on their way down the stairs they never made it."

One of those who did not make it, Young said, was her boss.

Doctors at the burn center said many victims suffered from serious third-degree burns. Doctors told CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta that contact for just one second with something heated to 155 degrees will result in a third-degree burn.

"Doctors believed these balls of fire were up to 1,000 degrees, engulfing and literally incinerating people," Gupta said.

The burn victims now face a long and often excruciating recovery. The recovery period for burn patients is estimated as the same number of days as the percent of the body burned, Gupta said.

"So, for those that have 50 to 60 percent burns on their body, they'll probably be in the hospital for two months getting skin grafts, getting physical therapy," he said.

Although the physical wounds may heal in a few months, the psychological wounds may take much longer. Young is already wondering why she survived when so many other people did not.

"What I go through is nothing," she said, her voice choked with emotion. "It's the people I know who had young families. People who just got married and had young kids. I don't know how they're going to survive. I just don't."

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