The attacks on the World Trade Center plunged New York City into chaos, with Wall Street enveloped in smoke and dust, wounded people staggering around the streets, and the mayor ordering an exodus from lower Manhattan.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told ABCNEWS there was no warning before the attacks and there had been a "horrible number" of lives lost.
He said there was a "massive rescue effort" under way, and that the city's police, firefighters and emergency workers were "stretched to the limit." New York Gov. George Pataki mobilized the National Guard to help the city workers' rescue efforts.
Giuliani was in the area of the World Trade Center when the complex's two towers collapsed after being hit by commercial airplanes. "I saw people jumping out of the building," he said several times during the day, clearly shaken. "People that I know have died."
The city's emergency response center had been located in one of the towers, making it unusable. Giuliani and other officials had set up a makeshift headquarters in a building one block away when the first tower collapsed. As the tower gave way in a huge cloud of dust and debris, they were trapped for 10 or 15 minutes. "We found an exit, got out and walked north," the mayor said.
In addition to the two towers, a third, smaller building in the World Trade Center complex collapsed later in the afternoon.
St. Vincent's Hospital on the West Side of Manhattan was bearing the brunt of the injuries, Giuliani said. Officials at the hospital said they were mostly seeing "crushing" injuries, as opposed to the respiratory problems that were the most common complaint in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They said thousands of people spontaneously showed up to donate blood.
Authorities set up a temporary morgue on the piers by the Hudson River, 5 miles north of the financial district.
Giuliani said there were as many as 2,000 rescue workers at the scene. He said officials had no information relating to the possibility of further attacks on the city, but were being vigilant. "The city is closed, the air space around the city is closed and we are on heightened alert," he said.
After the towers collapsed, Giuliani had asked as many people as possible south of 14th Street — an area that includes the financial district, Chinatown, and the trendy SoHo, TriBeCa and Greenwich Village districts — to calmly evacuate the area by foot. He later urged New Yorkers to take the day off Wednesday if they could, in order to keep the city streets clear for rescue operations.
As far away as the Upper East Side, 6 miles from the World Trade Center, the avenues that run up and down Manhattan were crowded with pedestrians streaming north. "They are very quiet, walking slowly," said Monika Weiss, an educator at the Whitney Museum, which like most places of business, closed for the day.
The events in the financial district transfixed and paralyzed the entire city.
At Times Square, 4 miles north of the World Trade Center, people stood in the streets, tears flowing down their faces as they watched television coverage of the attack on massive screens. When the second tower collapsed, many screamed and put their hands over their faces.
All bridges and tunnels in and out of Manhattan were closed soon after the two planes crashed into the towers. Many offices and businesses closed down for the day, but employees who commute from outside Manhattan were stranded, unable to leave the island.
By mid-afternoon, most subway lines had reopened and some bridges were opened to outgoing traffic, allowing people to get to their homes in the outer boroughs and the surrounding area.
New Yorkers had been scheduled to vote in primaries for the November election to determine Giuliani's successor in the mayor's office, but the election was canceled.