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World Trade Center attack paralyzes New York and strands millions

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Posted: Monday, September 10, 2001 10:00 pm

NEW YORK - The terrorist attack at the World Trade Center shut down vast stretches of New York on Tuesday, stranding millions of people in their homes, offices and on the streets. Many could not get home or reach loved ones by phone.

Andy Thornley, 43, who works for an insurer in Manhattan and witnessed one of the planes crashing into the center, took shelter in a bar with co-workers until it became clearer how they could get home.

"I took the bus in to work this morning and it was a beautiful summer day," said Thornley, still shaken hours after the attack. "I looked at the Manhattan skyline and thought there's no more beautiful place in the world. And now it's gone."

The attacks sent thousands fleeing up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and other thoroughfares to get out of the downtown financial district as a stinging gray-brown smoke poured through the lower half of the city.

Subways and commuter trains were shut down immediately after the midmorning crashes, and the city's multiple tunnels and bridges were closed to vehicles. Thousands fled Manhattan by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, some of them dazed and streaked with ash from the fiery wreckage of the trade center's twin towers.

Gov. George Pataki activated the National Guard and airports, as they were across the country, were closed. Trading on Wall Street was suspended and the United Nations building was evacuated. Offices, courts and colleges throughout the city were closed.

New York City's primary election, to select candidates for mayor and other city offices, was called off.

Thousands of workers jammed onto ferries to nearby New Jersey, but many had nowhere to go on the other side as railways and highways were shut down. Jersey City police tried desperately to clear the roads and keep onlookers away. One officer directing traffic screamed: "Get out of here! We have to bring dead bodies through here!"

Across the region, those with cell phones found them useless because of overloaded networks. Commuters lined up to use pay phones or wrangled rides with strangers. Regular phone service was also slowed.

Marty Phillips of New York was getting ready for his day when the first explosion occurred at the nearby trade center. He and his wife were trying to leave their downtown apartment building when the lights went out.

"Then it became pitch black, fast. We couldn't see," he said. Phillips and his wife grabbed emergency masks and headed to the Hudson River, looking for a ferry to New Jersey.

Limited rail service out of Manhattan to other boroughs, Long Island and New York's northern suburbs resumed by 1 p.m., some three hours after the crashes.

Mark Bishop, 39, did not leave his downtown office until 12:30, when police evacuated his building for fear of gas leaks. He hoped to board a ferry across the Hudson River to make it home to Hoboken, N.J., and his wife and twin 2-month-old daughters.

"I'm numb," he said. "This is a defining moment in American history on a scale of Pearl Harbor and Lexington and Concord."

Rockefeller Center, the complex of offices and shops that is a favorite tourist destination in the heart of the city, was among the buildings where property managers urged tenants to go home.

On the Upper West Side, far from the attack, grocery stores were packed as New Yorkers stocked up on food and water. With her subway line shut down, one woman was in the midst of walking 50 blocks to pick up her young daughter from school.

Around the city, clusters of people - their hands clutched to their heads in horror - stood at radios set up on chairs and outside stores. Strangers patted each other on the shoulder as they tried to comfort one another.

"Take care! Be careful!" people called to one another as they parted ways.

At the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor, Radley Osorio, a 27-year-old Guatemalan immigrant who lives in Elizabeth, N.J., wiped tears from his eyes as he switched between his video and still cameras. He said he came to see the statue because it represents America.

"Even though I'm from another country, this country and this statue has come to signify more for me than I could ever imagine," he said.

By late afternoon, the Hudson River and the busy ports on the New Jersey waterfront were empty - no boats, no barges or watercraft, except for emergency use.

Even the cranes that normally unload cars and containers were still. Workers stood along the docks and stared at the burning skyline.

Wanderson Olivera, 21, of Brazil posed for pictures with the billowing black smoke as a backdrop.

"You'll never see this again," Olivera said. "Yesterday at night, I was at this point in the same place, taking this picture. I will now send both pictures home."

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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