By Helen O’neill
NEW YORK – It was the scene of a nightmare: people on fire jumping in terror from the Trade Towers just before the buildings collapsed.
“Everyone was screaming, crying, running, cops, people, firefighters, everyone,” said Mike Smith, a fire marshal from Queens, as he sat by the fountain outside the Supreme Court building, shortly after the second tower collapsed. “A couple of marshals just picked me up and dragged me down the street.”
“It’s like a war zone. There are many injured.”
This was the horror unfolding in New York City in the wake of an apparent terrorist attack.
“I just saw the building I work in come down,” said businessman Gabriel Ioan, shaking in shock outside City Hall a cloud of smoke and ash from the World Trade Center behind him. “I just saw the top of Trade Two come down.”
Nearby a crowd mobbed a man on a pay-phone, screaming at him to get off the phone so that they could call relatives. Dust and dirt flew everywhere. Ash was 2 to 3 inches deep in places. People wandered dazed and terrified.
“People were jumping out of windows,” said an unidentified crying woman. “I guess people were trying to save themselves. Oh my God!”
“I was in the World Financial Center looking out the window,” said one woman. “I saw the first plane and then 15 minutes later saw the other plane just slam into the World Trade Center.”
Another eyewitness, AP newsman Dunstan Prial, described a strange sucking sound from the Trade Center buildings after the first building collapsed.
“Windows shattered. People were screaming and diving for cover. People walked around like ghosts, covered in dirt, weeping and wandering dazed.”
“It sounded like a jet or rocket,” said Eddie Gonzalez, a postal worker at a post office on West Broadway. “I looked up and saw a huge explosion. I didn’t see the impact. I just saw the explosion.”
Morning commuters heading into Manhattan were stranded as the Lincoln Tunnel was shut down to incoming traffic. Many left their cars and stood on the ramp leading to the tunnel, staring in disbelief at the thick cloud of smoke pouring from the top of the two buildings.
On the streets of Manhattan, people stood in groups talking quietly or watching on television at ground-level network studios.
Joan Goldstein, communications project leader for The Associated Press, was on a bus from New Jersey at about 8:50 a.m. when she saw “smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center building. We said, ‘Oh, my God! The World Trade Center’s on fire!”
Perhaps 10 minutes later, “All of a sudden, there was an orange plume, a huge explosion. It shot out the back of the building. Everybody on the bus was just moaning and gasping,” said Goldstein, who wept and trembled as she spoke.
The plume was from the second plane, but she didn’t see the plane because of the thick smoke.
She tried to call friends who work there, but couldn’t get through.
“It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Goldstein.
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