I just returned from WTC Ground Zero. I made it as far south as Chambers Street; Nat'l Guard roadblocks prevented ingress any closer to the site.
My first observation point was at Chambers Street and West Broadway, followed by Chambers and Greenwich.
In both pics, the WTC site is the blank area to the right of West St. (directly beneath the "W" in "Washington St.") My apartment is 4 blocks north of the round marker denoting "New York" (that's City Hall).
I took some video of the area (not much, as the camera battery was dying) that I will try to digitize as soon as I can, and a friend of mine took some digital pics from the Greenwich St. location that I will post here as soon as possible. I also have video from early yesterday morning, including the Tower II fireball, and a person high up in Tower I who broke out a window and was waving a white towel or shirt in an effort to attract rescue crews; I plan to digitize that, as well.
Today, the scene at Ground Zero is almost eerie. There is this odd silence, punctuated only by the occasional siren, and passing military jets patrolling the airspace overhead. Smoke pours from buildings (and building remnants) that continue to burn in the area. A fine, white dust from the collapse is everywhere -- covering cars, buildings, trees, everything. (The trees are the most interesting, as they are covered only on the "WTC side"; so, when looking in an uptown direction, the trees appear white, but when looking at them from the other side, they appear to be their normal green. Well, about as green as trees ever get in the City, which probably wouldn't strike most people as "normal.")
Cleanup crews are working as quickly as possible at the periphery of the destruction zone in order to gain access to what used to be the WTC Plaza. Fire crews are still trying to douse the fires, which seem to be worst on the north and northwest sides of the site (roughly, the Tower 1 collapse area). Rescue workers can be heard discussing rescue attempts, and I overheard one conversation in which two of them were saying that they will have to leave any known survivors where they are until they can clear enough debris to create secured points of access. This is not good news for survivors, as the rescue crews appear to be nowhere near the Plaza area at this time. However, it was difficult to get a clear view of the Plaza area through the smoke that obscures most of the site. (I keep referring to the "Plaza area" since, of course, there is no longer an actual Plaza to speak of.)
From the West Broadway location, I could see the side of a building that is leaning, almost horizontally, into a space that was once occupied by the rest of the building. Several high-power water streams from fire-fighting equipment can be seen amidst all the smoke.
The best angle was at the Greenwich Street location, from which I could see the remains of Bldg 7 and -- I think -- Bldg 3. As expected, there is significant collateral damage from the collapse. Across Greenwich St. from 7 World Trade, at least half of one building is missing, having been destroyed in the collapse of Tower I. You can see the remains of a bent and twisted superstructure, with vacant beams jutting into the air like arthritic fingers.
Beyond that point is the Plaza area. It is difficult to see much through the smoke that still engulfs the site, but with periodic wind shifts, there are times when the Plaza area is visible (albeit barely). Clearly, the destruction is remarkable and complete; we have all seen the videos of both towers' collapses, but it is only when standing at the site that it becomes painfully clear what it really means for a 110-story building to disintegrate. If there are survivors within the wreckage, I would be surprised if any of them were in the towers when they came down; I'd expect that survivors, if any, are trapped in the remains of the Mall area below Plaza level.
There are some largish pieces of the tower structures littering the area, but the rest seems to have simply turned to dust in the collapse. If there is any good news in this fact, it is only that the end came quickly and cleanly for those people who were still in the towers.
The entire downtown section of the City, below Canal St., has been secured. There is every imaginable form of law enforcement there, from NYC police to NJ State Troopers, to Newark (NJ) Police officers, to National Guard units, and there are FBI canvassing the entire area (especially around the Federal Building). There are HMMWVs everywhere; some, stationed just south of Canal, are armed with with soldiers and machine guns at the ready. It is unquestionably a war zone. Yet amid the police and National Guard are area residents, some still clearly trying to come to grips with the enormity of the situation, others simply trying to get a look at the wreckage or take photographs for posterity's sake.
A friend of mine who used to work in the WTC (Bldg 7) said that the towers were occupied by 50,000 workers, and that the entire WTC complex had roughly 100,000 workers. Depending on which figures you wish to believe, an average of 80,000 to 150,000 people traveled through the WTC on a typical weekday (though, luckily, not all at once). Looking at the remains of the buildings, it is clear that we must start preparing ourselves now for the death figures that we will start to hear over the next few days. The first battle of this particular war was swift and decisive, and the death toll could easily number in the kinds of figures that we typically associate with entire wars.
Overall, the scale of the destruction is simply beyond comprehension; it cannot be accurately represented in words, or pictures, or video. Even standing at the site, it is not possible to fully grasp the enormity of the destruction. It is as if an entire city has been obliterated without provocation.
A wake-up call has been given to the American people. We have long resisted any limitations on our personal freedoms, under the mistaken belief that no one would ever risk this type of brutal and utterly senseless attack on our nation. Clearly, that belief was based on flawed logic and irrational convictions. It is no longer possible for us to avoid the reality of terrorism ... the magnitude of this disaster exceeds every possible threshold of plausible deniability. The better interests of society as a whole must outweigh our personal desires for privacy and anonymity among the crowd. These changes are long overdue.
People are, quite naturally, speaking of retribution -- and retribution will be had. But let us not lull ourselves into a false sense of security on the belief that mere retribution will eliminate the ongoing threat of terrorism; if anything, it will only intensify the threat. Yes, we must act swiftly and decisively -- but we must do so _internally_ as well as externally.
We have all witnessed what was probably the single most brutal and destructive act in the history of mankind. I hope we never have to suffer anything even remotely similar to this again.
May our attackers live in perpetual fear.
- Vince Sabio
P.S. -- Please feel free to forward this message; you may leave my name on it.
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