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Rescuers: Expect thousands dead

Emergency workers assist a victim in New York City.  

(CNN) -- The rubble at the World Trade Center may yield thousands of bodies of people killed in a terrorist attack Tuesday, police and emergency specialists said.

They reached that grim assessment Tuesday afternoon as the death toll from coordinated assaults in New York and Washington hours earlier continued rising.

Just how extensive the fatalities might be was not known as damaged gas lines, fires and cascading concrete prevented rescuers from entering the area to look for the injured and dead, officials said.

At least 266 people were confirmed dead in four separate crashes of hijacked planes -- two at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, one at the Pentagon and a fourth near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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According to flight records, 233 were passengers, 25 worked as flight crew and eight were pilots.

The toll also rose in city hospitals, where at least five were reported dead Tuesday afternoon. Witnesses at the World Trade Center reported seeing at least six people jump or fall from the 1,300-foot towers.

Almost 300 emergency personnel -- 78 missing police officers and 200 firefighters -- are presumed dead.

The toll began at 8:45 a.m. EDT when American Airlines flight No. 11 from Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California, rammed the World Trade Center's north twin tower.

At 9:03, a second jetliner, United flight No. 175, from also en route from Boston to Los Angeles, sliced through the south tower, exploding on impact.

On a daily basis, at least 50,000 people and visitors occupy the twin towers where the commuter rail lines connecting Manhattan to New Jersey operate from the base of the buildings.

Hospitals cope, ask for blood

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dispatched 300 emergency medical and mortuary professionals to New York and Washington to help local health and emergency care providers. HHS also sent additional medical supplies to the cities.

Lenox Hill Hospital in New York was taking patients with burns and lacerations, the hospital's director of public relations said. Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan received about 100 patients with injuries ranging from respiratory stress and minor injuries.

"What's happening now is that EMS has had the appropriate response, had triaged those that they could downtown and we are now getting those patients," said Jim Mandler, speaking for Beth Israel.

Tom Swozzi, mayor of the city of Glen Cove on Long Island, New York, ordered high-speed ferries put to use to transport paramedics, emergency medical technicians, nurses and doctors to relieve New York doctors.

Hospitals in New York and Washington reported severe blood shortages and asked people throughout the United States to donate blood.

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