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World Trade Center survivors describe 'holy hell'

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A wall of thick smoke and debris showered over the streets for blocks around the World Trade Center on Tuesday, enveloping workers and visitors in a "holy hell" after two hijacked passenger jets smashed through the towers, causing them both to collapse.

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"It just went 'bam,' like a bomb went off. It was like holy hell," said a witness who was in one of the towers when it was hit by one of the planes.

Soot, concrete, shards of building materials, glass and papers covered the streets, cars and businesses around the devastated buildings.

Matthew Cornelius had just arrived for work at the Port Authority offices when the first tower was hit.

"We heard a loud crash and the building started shaking, moving like a wave," he said.

People headed for stairwells to get out of the building, Cornelius said, but there wasn't a panic.

"People remained calm throughout this and kept saying, 'We're going to take this one stair at a time, everybody's going to get out,'" he said. "We weren't aware of the situation. Had we known what was going on it would have been a different story."

Outside the building, people who saw the planes hit the buildings were well aware of what was going on.

"I saw people jumping off the building," said one witness. "Everyone was screaming, running ... people were stampeding, people started screaming that there was another plane coming and the second building just exploded."

Later, as the towers gave way and collapsed, a mushroom cloud of dust and debris chased those still near the buildings for blocks.

"I was running for my life," said one man. "(Stuff) was just falling down behind us, coming up behind us. I saw this truck ... and I just slid underneath it. Everything went black."

It's not known how many people have been killed in the attack. More than 600 people have been taken to hospitals and more than 2,000 "walking wounded" were being treated at Liberty Island Park, according to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

New York police have reported 78 of its officers are missing, and some 200 firefighters were unaccounted for.

"The city is going to survive, we are going to get through it," Giuliani said. "It's going to be very, very difficult time. I don't think we yet know the pain that we're going to feel when we find out who we lost, but the thing we have to focus on now is getting this city through this, and surviving and being stronger for it."

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