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Nation's capital under state of emergency

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A state of emergency was declared Tuesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., after the Pentagon was struck by an airplane and evacuations ordered throughout all federal government buildings, including the White House and Capitol.

The heart of the United States' centers of power and commerce were shaken as part of an apparent series of attacks that brought tragedy throughout the country.

In Arlington, Virginia, more than 50 people were injured, some severely, in the attack on the Pentagon. There was no word on fatalities.

Unexplained explosions were reported in the vicinity of the State Department and the Capitol. They apparently were no more than sonic booms.

The explosions and evacuations in Washington came shortly after two planes flew into the World Trade Center tower buildings in New York City, where stockbrokers, office workers and others had just begun a new day of business. A fourth jetliner crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Casualties from New York and Pennsylvania were still being assessed.

Within hours, long lines of blood donors queued up outside a Washington-area hospital. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the city's Catholic leader, said an unusually large number of worshippers -- between 3,000 and 4,000 attended Mass at the downtown cathedral, according to The Associated Press.

Authorities immediately began deploying troops, including a regiment of light infantry, in Washington.

Among other developments Tuesday in Washington:

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-- All federal office buildings were closed and employees were told to go home. Nationwide, about 1 million federal employees were sent home.

-- The FAA shut down the nationwide air traffic system.

-- International embassies in the U.S. capital closed down.

Bush convenes security session

President Bush, in Florida when the attacks occurred, canceled plans to return to Washington and addressed the nation from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and later traveled to the U.S. Strategic Air Command headquarters in Nebraska. Later Tuesday, he convened a National Security Council meeting in Nebraska.

Vice President Dick Cheney was in Washington, and he and first lady Laura Bush were taken to an undisclosed secure location, officials said.

Likewise, congressional leaders were whisked away from Capitol Hill by helicopter and flown to an undisclosed location. Congress was not likely to convene until at least Wednesday, a senior Democratic aide said.

Elsewhere in Washington, federal workers, some weeping, poured out of government buildings as officials ordered them to evacuate. Washington's heavily traveled streets were knotted with going-home traffic.

At the White House, employees ran out of the executive mansion as police cleared it. A "credible threat" against the White House had come in, aides said.

The evacuations were orderly at first, but turned into sprints for open gates as Secret Service workers told the employees to leave quickly.

Officers, some with automatic rifles, patrolled outside the White House.

Explosion, smoke at Pentagon

Smoke rises from the Pentagon after a plane crashes into it.  

The 9:45 a.m. attack on the Pentagon appeared to take place on the Army side of the building, said retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO.

"We've known for some time that some group has been planning" such an assault, he told CNN, adding that "obviously, we didn't do enough" to prepare for one.

Law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the plane that struck the Pentagon was an American Airlines jetliner that had taken off from Dulles International Airport on a scheduled flight to Los Angeles.

Witnesses described a commercial airplane crashing into the Pentagon, the world's largest office building.

"I saw the tail of a large airliner. ... It plowed right into the Pentagon," said an Associated Press Radio reporter. "There is billowing black smoke."

Gray smoke billowed from the five-sided structure as more than 20,000 civilians and military men and women who work in the building streamed into the surrounding car parks. They fled behind blue-and-white strobe lights and wailing sirens.

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