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Hijackers rammed jetliners into each of New York's World Trade Center towers yesterday, toppling both in a hellish storm of ash, while a third jetliner crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia. The attacks seemed carefully coordinated.
There were indications that the hijackers on at least two of the planes were armed with knives.
In all, 266 people perished in the four planes and several score more were known dead elsewhere.
For hours after the attacks, rescuers were stymied by other buildings that threatened to topple. But by 11 p.m., rescuers had been able to begin serious efforts to locate and remove survivors.
Within an hour of the attacks, the military was put on the highest state of alert, National Guard units were called out in Washington and New York.
The repercussions of the attack swiftly spread across the nation. Air traffic across the United States was halted and international flights were diverted to Canada.
The largest city in the United States, the financial capital of the world, was virtually closed down. Transportation into Manhattan was halted, as was much of public transport within the city.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the extraordinary planning required for concerted hijackings by terrorists who had to be familiar with modern jetliners, and the history of major attacks on American targets in recent years led many officials and experts to point to Osama bin Laden, the Islamic militant believed to operate out of Afghanistan.
A sense of shock, grief and solidarity spread rapidly through the city. There was the expectation that friends and relatives would be revealed among the victims.
Mobile phones became all but useless, intercity lines were clogged and major Internet servers reported overloads.
The area around the World Trade Center resembled a desert after a terrible sandstorm. Parts of buildings, crushed vehicles and personal items of those who fled lay covered with ash, through which weeping people wandered in search of safety, each with a story of pure horror.