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America Under Attack: Day of Relentless Terrorist Attacks Forever Changes New York City's Skyline

Aired September 12, 2001 - 12:30   ET


JIM CLANCY, CNN CO-ANCHOR: It is midnight in New York marking the end of a day that will forever change the city's skyline and forever change any notion of America's isolation, its safety in an increasingly dangerous world.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Cameras capture the horror as the north tower of the World Trade Center is rocked by a plane crash and watch as another plane enters the picture plowing into the south tower.

CLANCY: New York gripped by chaos, and many fear the worst, with reports of thousands missing and presumed dead.

MCEDWARDS: And the U.S. Capitol shares in New York's misery as a hijacked plane strikes at the nerve center of America's military might.

CLANCY: Hello from CNN Center. I'm Jim Clancy.

MCEDWARDS: And I'm Colleen McEdwards. Our coverage of "America Under Attack" continues. Ahead, we'll go live to the scenes of the devastation.

CLANCY: But first, let's revisit the appalling events that transfixed America and the world on Tuesday, September the 11th.

United States president George W. Bush saying he's commanded an all-out search for whoever was behind a series of attacks on U.S. soil Tuesday. The president convened a late-night meeting of his National Security Council after a harrowing day of death, destruction and disbelief.

The perpetrators aimed squarely at symbols of the economic and military power of the United States, the first of many shocks at the start of the workday in New York's financial district.

American Airlines Flight 11 shown here in the first pictures. This is the first aircraft, Flight 11, slamming into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Emergency crews mobilize quickly. News crews did as well.

Once again, these are the very first pictures that have come in showing the first plane, Flight 11, plowing into the World Trade Center. And then it was just about 18 minutes after that attack another plane appears and also flies directly into the second of the twin towers. That aircraft later identified as a Boeing 757 belonging to United Airlines. It had been hijacked while it was on route from Boston to Los Angeles.

The two planes had at least 148 people on board. Thousands of people were believed to be in the twin towers at the very moment of the attacks as you see here. Now the back-to-back attacks on the twin towers seemed unthinkable.

MCEDWARDS: Unthinkable, yes, but then incredibly, it was a method of attack that was to be repeated. Just about an hour after the first explosion in New York, the Pentagon, the hub of the U.S. military, was hit by a third passenger jet, this an American Airlines flight that had just taken off from Washington's Dulles airport with 64 people on board.

Smoke and flames rose from a section of the Pentagon that contained U.S. Army offices. That section of the building later collapsed, but it could have been worse.


JOHN JESTER, CHIEF DEFENSE PROTECTIVE SERVICE: We're fortunate in this part of the building in that the part where the plane hit, one part of it was just beginning to be occupied, areas that had just been renovated. So part of it was occupied but not all of it. And then the other area adjacent to that, more behind the heliport station there, some of those areas were -- people had moved out to move to what we call the new Wedge One (ph) area. So some areas were not occupied to begin with.


MCEDWARDS: All right, the Pentagon attack prompted a heightened security alert right across the U.S. Capitol. The White House Justice Department, State Department and other federal buildings were all evacuated. Tourist sites were also closed.

CLANCY: All right, and we follow things, as events uncovered on the ground, emergency services were raising to the Pentagon. Meantime, the twin towers of the World Trade Center had become blazing beacons.

Shortly before 10:00 Eastern Time, the first of the towers collapsed. It created a fog of dust and smoke and showering lowering Manhattan with glass and other debris. Half an hour later, the second tower then gave way. Its steel and concrete core melted by tons upon tons of burning aviation fuel. A tornado of dust and debris sent people literally running for their lives. The buildings that had so much defined the New York skyline for a generation and taken six years to build were gone in less than two hours.

Now at this point, rumors were flying. There were false reports of car bombings, fires and a second plane that was headed towards the Pentagon at that hour. MCEDWARDS: As is the case when things are unfolding. But one report actually did prove to be true. The crash of a fourth passenger plane, this one in a wooded area of Pennsylvania. Military sources deny that it had been shot down.

Intelligence sources say they have some evidence that United Airlines Flight 93 was being diverted to Camp David. That's the presidential retreat in Maryland. Local emergency officials say they received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a passenger of the flight on route to San Francisco from Newark. The caller said the plane was being hijacked; crashed about 10 minutes later. Forty- five people were on board that flight.

In New York, rescue crews are working through the night through deep rubble from several collapsed buildings. They're now looking for any survivors. There are reports that some cell phone calls are coming actually from beneath the debris.


MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: We're still hopeful that we're going to find people, and we have not given up hope that we're going to be able to find some people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do know there are people in the building that are alive. We know that for a fact.

QUESTION: How do you know that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't get into it right now, but we do know there are people in the building that are alive, and we're making every effort to get to them.


MCEDWARDS: Well, the total number of dead will not likely be known for days because of the devastation here. President Bush says thousands of lives were lost. Officials in New York say at least 300 firefighters are feared dead in the collapse of the twin towers; 78 police officers at this point confirmed missing; and one insurance brokerage firm that operated in the World Trade Center says that only about 500 of its 1,700 workers have been accounted for.

Officials at the Pentagon say as many as 800 employees may have been killed there. At least 60 injured people were being treated at hospitals in the Washington area.

Now the four plane crashes alone took some 250 lives, including some notable names; among them, the man who created the hit television sitcoms, "Frasier" and produced "Cheers." David Angell and his wife were apparently on board one of the planes that crashed into the twin towers -- Jim.

CLANCY: The drama continues as well in lower Manhattan this night. We're going to go to Rose Arce. She is there. She's a CNN producer who's been following this story. Rose, give us a picture of the scene.

ROSE ARCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I'm standing right across the street from 2 World Trade Center, which right now is about seven stories high. It's just been completely shaved off at the top. And what is left of the seven stories is the whole front end is just shaved right off the front of the building. You can almost see through it.

There's also a walkway that connected 2 World Trade Center to the other side of the street. That walkway is completely flattened. And right next to me across the street are a line of fire trucks that have just been crushed. One has a piece of the World Trade Center on it. It's jutting -- the piece of the World Trade Center is just jutting from the cab of the fire truck. And there's several others behind it. They were also just completely crushed. One is on its side.

There's also -- there's a steady stream of rescue workers with what looks to be very heavy construction material trying to clear out debris and clear a pathway so they can get in a little bit closer to that building.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Rose, thanks very much.

And, of course, as just a reminder, we are hearing reports that there have actually been some cell phone calls made possibly from the basement there of the World Trade Center.

We want to go to another part of New York now where Garrick Utley is for his thoughts about this terrible day.

Garrick, some perspective for us, will you?

GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the perspective is the very painful reality, Colleen, as we've been seeing all day and now into the evening. It's said, of course, that New York City is the city that never sleeps. And never has that been more true than on this evening or actually now in the early morning hours of the day after, except the pain still reverberates here through the entire city. It's strange around here. It's dark. Of course, it's the void of night, and yet there's an eerie quiet, not just downtown where people are not allowed to go past police barriers, but here in midtown, the streets are empty. Times Square normally jammed with people and traffic at this hour coming out of theaters or restaurants or movies. There's nobody there. I was coming down 5th Avenue tonight on a bus, the only way to get around town. Nobody there.

Manhattan, of course, is an island, and in a way, this island has now pulled up its drawbridges, at least if not literally, metaphorically. The tunnels in and out of town, the Lincoln tunnel, and the Holland tunnel have been closed to traffic. The bridges are closed to vehicular traffic. Only the George Washington Bridge has one lane open for outgoing traffic; nothing coming inbound.

But to give you an idea of how jittery people and police are here, bomb squads are everywhere racing around the city checking out every suspicious vehicle. In fact, one on the George Washington Bridge are trying to approach the George Washington Bridge was stopped and searched. They thought they had something there. It turns out to have been a false alarm. But everybody that's working 24 hours through this evening.

Let's look again at some of the scenes we had today. What we've gone through here in Manhattan is really four stages. First, there was the terror of the attack. We've been seeing these all day long. The pictures speak for themselves, the rubble that is there. The two planes, one at 8:45 a.m.; 18 minutes later, the second jet plowing into the giant towers at the lower end of Manhattan. And scenes like this, not just on the street but in buildings, places where people worked in stores. There the mannequins covered with dust. And, of course, the people covered with dust.

And right after this initial terror came more of the aftermath, the survivors, people being hauled out, traumatized, wounded, people trying to get in touch with their loved ones. A great jostling to get to public telephones to call home to tell their loved ones that they were safe, that they were among the fortunate few who were safe on this day.

And then, of course, came the job of taking those who could be taken to hospitals. Hospitals are jammed here. At least 1,500 people, according to the latest official reports have been taken into hospitals. More than 2,000 that were being treated or have been treated in triage centers set up around town, including the Statue of Liberty in New York City harbor.

Mayor Giuliani, other officials, are not even trying to give an estimate of the death toll, but he did say, quote, "When we get the final numbers, there will be more than we can bear." He said it's horrendous the number of lives lost. For example, 300 policemen, perhaps even more, are missing and feared lost in the collapse of the towers. And...

CLANCY: Garrick, if I can, let me interrupt you. This is Jim Clancy.


CLANCY: Let me just interrupt you for a minute. We have a new piece of footage that has come in that gives us another perspective, yet another perspective of the tragedy as it was literally unfolding this day showing that second plane from a different angle as it slammed into the...


CLANCY: All right, they were rewinding the tape there, but an incredible angle showing that plane as it came in very low. You could see how low it was apparently there from Battery Park taking a look. Can we roll it again, please?

MCEDWARDS: We've seen it from the front angle before but not from this angle. (VIDEOTAPE OF WORLD TRADE CENTER PLANE CRASH)

CLANCY: Garrick Utley, I want to ask you something. As we look at these pictures and we've looked at these pictures over and over again and it affects not just the people that are in the United States that have been there in New York, but literally all around the world. Buildings, yes, they can be rebuilt, but there seems to be something in the psyche that may have been changes by the events of this day such as the magnitude of what we've witnessed.

UTLEY: There's no question about this, Jim, whether you're here in Manhattan and saw that as an eyewitness or whether you're on the opposite side of this world watching it via satellite at this moment. It's not -- they're never the same pictures. Each one is this new experience again, whether we're just seeing the same picture two or three times or something new like that. And I'm sure more pictures and images will be coming from various sources in the hours and the days to come.

What really strikes you, though, and I think strikes any journalist or any person down on the street, is not just what we saw with that plane going into that tower and the horror of it, but trying to think, each of us, throughout this day: What were the people in that plane going through? Who was in that tower where those planes and smoke are right now having their morning coffee in a styrofoam cup, looking out across beautiful New York harbor on a cloudless day and seeing this jet? Nothing more to say, just watch.

Nothing more to say except just one detail of which I think has been reported but might offer some clarity, Jim and Colleen. That was the second plane that struck the towers. It came from the south over New York harbor, which is the normal direction the planes approach for landings at La Guardia airport. Planes coming into Kennedy don't fly over Manhattan. Planes coming into La Guardia do fly up the Hudson River on this side or the East River on that side. So a plane coming from the south, you'd say he's off course but that's the way planes do make their approach.

But that first plane at 8:45 this morning, it came from the other direction. It was going up a one-way street, so to speak. It came from the north, which is here, straight down over the center of Manhattan into that tower. We saw that just a few minutes ago. So it was going against traffic. Everybody who looked up and caught a glimpse of that plane flying hundreds of miles an hour in Manhattan knew instantly something was wrong. That plane had no business being there, but it was and that's the results.

MCEDWARDS: Garrick, as awful and horrendous as what this country has seen, what the world has seen already today, I suppose come daylight tomorrow when day starts breaking behind you there, it starts to get really grim, doesn't it, because people may get a better sense of the devastation, a better sense of the toll in terms of human life?

UTLEY: Well, we don't know when officials will start to make any kind of an estimate on how many lives have been lost. The search, of course, will begin. It's going to be long and arduous, because we've seen how much rubble is down there, and nobody's even guessing how long it will take to go through the rubble.

One way of approaching a figure of human loss will be by taking a survey or an inventory, a census, if you will, on each company each floor had offices, companies, people working there. They know how many employees were there. They know who didn't come home. That's the kind of statistics, the numbers, the body counts have to say that will be made starting tomorrow morning. Back to you.

MCEDWARDS: Garrick Utley, thanks.

CLANCY: Thanks for that, Garrick.

Well, of course, President Bush was in Florida at the time of the attacks. For security reasons, he did not return to Washington at least at first. Instead, Air Force One flew to an Air Force base in Louisiana and then on to another in Nebraska. Then at dusk, the president finally returned to Washington. His plane accompanied by jetfighters.

At the White House, he addressed a nation traumatized by a day of tragedy.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.


CLANCY: This has undoubtedly been the toughest day of the administration of George W. Bush without question. John King has been there at the White House throughout the day. He joins us now -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Bush asleep tonight; at least the White House lights have been turned off. But we are told to look first thing in the morning for more efforts at sending reassuring signs from the president to the American people. He will bring a bipartisan group of the leadership of Congress to the White House and make another public statement.

The president immediately after he finished that televised address to the American people tonight, convened a meeting of the National Security Council getting an update on U.S. troop deployments, getting an update on what the government knows about these terrorist strikes today.

Also included in that meeting, an extraordinary meeting because of the extraordinary circumstances here today, the Transportation secretary, the Health and Human Services secretary, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they are now directing the government's response. Portable morgue sent up to the streets of New York, a grim sign there. Deployment by the thousands of search-and- rescue teams, medical personnel around the country. The administration on the one hand reacting to these tragedies today by sending out emergency help. On the other hand, trying to look ahead.

We are told by sources that senior administration officials have told key members of Congress that they are confident that they are developing evidence linking these attacks to organizations and people associated with the suspected terrorist, Osama bin Laden. Publicly, the administration not saying that. This from private briefings to key members of Congress. But we do know in the president's remarks tonight to the American people, he said that the administration would not differentiate at all between terrorists and those who gave them harbor.

The president will meet with his National Security team again tomorrow. Secretary of State Powell out in public again in the morning as the administration on the one hand responds to this and on the other hand, tries to decide what to do about it -- Jim.

CLANCY: John King, as the investigation moves forward, and we know that's got to take its course, but when Americans wake up in the morning, will something have changed? Will they see a difference?

KING: The White House certainly believes so. One of the reason the president wanted to get back to the White House tonight despite the security concerns was to give a reassuring address to the American people and certainly the symbolism of the president returning to Washington was important to the White House.

Any Americans -- we are told, as of right now, the plan is to reopen the domestic air, commercial air system in the United States at noon tomorrow. But any American going to an airport in this country, to a major train station in this country, will see heightened security. No more checking your luggage at the curbside, a luxury enjoyed at most American airports. We are told there will be more random searches, more security personnel. The question is whether this is a permanent change of culture here or one that will fade in the weeks and months ahead. But certainly, the country will awaken tomorrow still trying to count the numbers of those dead and injured, still trying to get an explanation from the president and other federal officials as to how this could have happened -- four commercial airliners hijacked in the same day -- what the administration is doing about it, the status of the investigation and possible retaliation -- Jim.

CLANCY: John, we saw earlier in the day the concerns for the safety of the president. Are those concerns going to remain in place?

KING: Certainly. We are seeing on the streets of Washington, around the White House complex extraordinary security measures taken. I was told by two senior officials earlier that there was a paramount concern of getting the president back to Washington because of the important political symbol that would send, but as you mentioned, the president went first from Florida to a military base in Louisiana. At that point, there were plans to bring him back to Washington, but the White House was told that not all planes in the skies over the United States has been accounted over, I'm told by sources. At that point, the decision was made not to bring the president back to Washington until all the airliners known to be in the air over the United States were accounted for. It was only then and then only after they rechecked the White House grounds, rechecked the security of Andrews Air Force Base and arrange for that extraordinarily close contact fighter escort we just showed our viewers on television there, only then did they decide to bring the president back to Washington.

CLANCY: All right, John King reporting there live from the White House -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Jim, thanks.

Let me get some phone numbers to you now. We want to make sure you get these. Airlines have released numbers for people who are concerned about their family members. Relatives of American Airlines passengers seeking information about relatives have this number to call: 1-800-245-0999.

United Airlines says that friends or family members seeking information on flights may call 1-800-932-8555. United also says that it's going to post information on its Web site. That's

Now the U.S. Justice Department has set up a hotline for families and relatives of those who may have been hurt or killed in these attacks. They're encouraged to call 800-331-0075. Relatives can get information about victims as well as provide authorities with information if they want to. The hotline will also inform survivors of their rights and some of the services that are going to be available to them.

The Pentagon also operating a hotline for staff to ring in and register their status. All Army personnel who work at the Pentagon are asked to call 800-984-8523 or 703-428-0002. Now families seeking information on Army personnel are also asked to call that same number.

The number for Navy and Marine Corps personnel, 1-877-633-6772 -- Jim.

CLANCY: There are many people, of course, that are still missing, still unaccounted for. And there are people doing their best to try to locate them hoping against hope perhaps that some are still alive.

Deborah Feyerick is on the scene. She's about 20 blocks from the actual Battery Park, the area of the twin trade towers where they used to appear on the skyline there. Let's join her now by telephone -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I just spoke to a retired police officer who was at the actual site of the explosion. He was there with his cadaver dog. He said that after about five minutes, the dog couldn't smell anything because the dust is so thick down there. But the way that the officer described the scene, he said that there are big cranes lifting very heavy beams as they sort through some of this debris. There are people from emergency services unit and the fire department. They are using heavy saws to try to cut through whatever they can trying to find pockets of people who may still be alive.

Now that whole area down by the trade center is in totally blackout. There are no lights. And it is normally one of the brightest areas of the city, but that is now in total blackout. And one police officer told me that as you get close to the scene, apparently, it is lit up like a stadium because they have brought in all of these very powerful flood lights. And as a matter of fact, we saw, I would say, about 20 trucks, flatbed trucks carrying some of those lights down just about 10 minutes ago.

Again, police officers, firefighters sorting through the debris. They're trying to find anybody who may still be alive in the rubble. They're lifting beams. They are going through whatever they can. But again, the dogs that they had brought down there to try to find people are effectively useless because it is so difficult to breathe down there -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right, Deborah Feyerick, our thanks to you for bringing us up to date the scene as it continues to develop right down there at the World Trade Center location -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Jim, well, U.S. officials regard Osama bin Laden as a prime suspect in the attacks against Washington and New York. He's believed to be in Afghanistan, and early on Wednesday morning local time, news of explosions in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Soldiers from the ruling Taliban say the explosions seemed to come from a low-flying helicopter firing rockets.

The United States swiftly denied any involvement. And CNN's Nick Robertson was in Kabul reported that a rebel group had claimed responsibility for the attacks. A spokesman for the Taliban government denied that his country allowed bin Laden to strike from its territory.


ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, TALIBAN AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We in Afghanistan do not allow Osama bin Laden to use Afghanistan's territory to launch attacks against any country around the world. We took away all communication devices from him and he does not have any communication with anybody outside of Afghanistan. In any case, we will conduct our own investigation and find out what happened, and we denounce this terrorist attack whoever is behind it.


MCEDWARDS: And while denouncing the attack, the ruling Taliban say that they're going to conduct their own investigation.

Now Osama bin Laden, number one on the FBI's Most Wanted list. There's a $5 million bounty on his head, as we mentioned, believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. And for more on Osama bin Laden, let's go to Jeanne Meserve, who is in Washington right now -- Jeanne. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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