Return to Transcripts main page

Breaking News

America Under Attack: Terrorists Attacks in Both Washington D.C. and New York

Aired September 11, 2001 - 10:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED CNN ANCHOR: That's as frighten a scene as you will ever see.

Again, this is going on now in two cities. We have a report that there's a fire at the State Department as well and that is being evacuated.

So we've got fires at the Pentagon, evacuated, the State Department, evacuated, the White House evacuated, on the basis of what the Secret Service describes as a terrorist threat.

We have two explosions, two planes hitting the World Trade Center here in New York.

And what this second explosion was, it took place about -- part of the south -- that would be the south tower has apparently collapsed.

We don't know if that was from the impact of this first plane that hit it or whether something else has happened there. We'll work on that.

Our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno is on the phone.

Frank, what are you hearing?.

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron (ph), I just drove past the Pentagon across the 14th Street Bridge which is now choked with traffic. We're beginning to hear emergency sirens and rescue personnel standing out across Washington.

There is a gigantic black billowing cloud of smoke that is rising over the Pentagon.

You heard Jamie McIntyre a moment ago describe where that was coming from. I can also tell you that local radio and addition to talking about evacuations as we've heard at the Pentagon, the White House is reporting that the Capitol building has been evacuated and the Treasury Department has been evacuated.

Washington, DC, the nation's capital is exceptionally tense and clearly taking steps as if it is virtually under siege here. We don't know specifically, as you said, what has taken place at the Pentagon, but this is very serious, striking at heart of the national government. And as John King was explaining...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frank, it's Aaron, I need to interrupt you for a second.

Again, there has been a second explosion here in Manhattan at the Trade Center. We are getting reports that a part of the tower -- the second tower, the one a bit further to the south of us has collapsed. We are checking on that.

We are also told that the Sears Tower in Chicago has been evacuated, and what I can't tell you on that is whether there was something specific that happened there, whether there was an attack on that building, yet, or whether there was a warning or whether there was a threat of some sort or whether that's simply precautionary.

What we can tell you is that just in the last several minutes here, two or three minutes, a second or a third -- I guess, technically, extraordinary event has happened here in lower Manhattan.

You can see this extraordinary plume of smoke that is -- or was at least the second tower the World Trade Center. Or perhaps three, four minutes ago you could from where we were standing see the second building that is just a bit to the south of the first building, but you can't see it anymore, it is covered with smoke. A large plume of smoke also coming still from the first tower, where the first plane hit at about 8:45.

We can, by the way, if we can cue the tape, we can show you the second attack, or at least the second explosion in the Trade Center that occurred at about 9:15 Eastern time.

As you can imagine -- there you can see to the right of your screen a plane coming in. We do have a report of a hijacked American Airlines plane.

It comes into the south side and then boom. You can see the fire coming out the front or the north side of the building, I guess that would be the northeast side of the building.

And then just in the last several minutes there has been a second explosion or at least -- perhaps not an explosion perhaps part of building simply collapsed, and that's what we saw and that's what we're look at as smoke now just covers lower Manhattan.

Almost as far to the end of Manhattan island as you can get is where the Trade Centers are.

The Sears Tower in Chicago has been evacuated and we continue to check on the circumstances there.

The Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House have been evacuated in Washington as well. The president has -- we can show you now what happened just a few moments ago at the Trade Center. Watch the building to the left, to the back of those two building. This is just a few minutes ago. We don't know if something happened, another explosion, or if the building was so weakened it just collapsed.

But -- we have a -- one of our producers on the phone, and I didn't get the name, so why don't we just go ahead.

Are you there?

ROSE ARCE, REPORTER: Yes. This is Rose Arce calling from New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rose, tell me what you know.

ARCE: Just a few minutes ago we saw -- there's a portion of the building where the first plane struck and it seemed to be buckling inside itself, almost as if the top of the building was going to fall. Shortly after that, to people, it's hard to tell whether they were being pushed or they physically approached themselves, the sort of the river side of the building, would be the west side of the building, and appeared to jump from the top floors, just under where you see the smoke and fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is extraordinary. The South Tower, the World Trade Center has collapsed.

Again, tell me how long ago was it that you saw this?

ARCE: This must have been about five minutes ago, and prior to that, you could see heads popping out of windows right beneath where that big, gaping whole is, so there appeared to be people alive right below where the crash point was and were trying to find some way out of there. And just as the thing started buckle you saw them plummeting from that top floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, and perhaps this is stating the obvious, we apologize for that, but obviously people were already at work here at the Trade Center when this happened. We don't know how many people have been hurt in all of this. We have no idea at this point, as you look at an aerial shot coming from -- I guess that would be coming from the south of the Trade Center, or what is at least the Trade Center behind those huge plumes of smoke.

All airports across the country, every airports in the United States has been shut down as the FAA and the government tries to figure out exactly what has happened, what is at risk, what is not, who is behind it, are there more explosions, more attacks yet to come.

Here in New York, trading on the New York Stock Exchange has been suspended, at least for now. All bridges and tunnels coming into the city have been shut down as the police try to clear the way.

We can tell you, as we were coming in, perhaps an hour ago, there was a convoy -- I can't think of a better word -- a convoy of fire and police trucks racing down the west side highway, and this is in the middle of rush hour. Obviously, every available fire unit here in Manhattan has been brought to the Trade Center.

Outside of the White House, John King, our senior White House correspondent -- John?


They have pushed us even further back away from the White House now and there are more than a half dozen fire trucks. Some of the Secret Service now patrolling the perimeter in Lafayette Park, which is directly across from the White House have automatic rifles drawn to keep people away from the park, and they're policing back and forth. You can probably here additional fire apparatus arriving on the scene.

Senior White House staffers who were evacuated, all they could tell us is that they were told that there was a credible threat on the White House as well, and that they were told to evacuate the premises.

What we do not know is whether or not the vice president and the national security team have stayed inside of the White House situation room.

We know that they were directing and monitoring operations from there, as of just about 15 minutes -- 15, 20 minutes ago. But the White House staff, the executive office building staff, and all of the office buildings around, including the Treasury Department and some government and some non-government office buildings, people have been evacuated out into the street, and again, the secret service now putting up yellow police line tape, and some of them patrolling Lafayette Park with automatic rifles, which is a scene quite extraordinary here across from the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, tell us as best as you can, what the government's national security apparatus will do right now? I mean, what do you guess is happening and where is it happening?

KING: Well, I don't want to guess at all, but from the White House situation room, a president or a vice president can direct a war, can direct a full scale world war.

The White House situation room is where all information, it's acceptable to all information from the United States military, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from the Federal Aviation Administration in this case. The White House situation room is prepared just for situation like this, unfortunately, to be prepared in a time of crisis for the president to monitor incoming information and to direct any U.S. military or nonmilitary emergency response.

The White House situation room is a bomb shelter for that matter. That part of the White House is a bomb shelter. Whether or not they have stayed in there is unclear. We know in the past that would be the routine. We just do not have the direct answer as yet because most of the staff, if not all of the staff, has been evacuated from the premises. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I gather you're just not being able to get any calls into the building right now, or at least not getting them answered at this point?

KING: Calls you get into the building are not answered at this point. And more fire apparatus showing up now as we speak. We saw most of the senior staff come out. We have not seen the national security staff that we would recognize, anyway, but I should note there are other gates from the White House.

We are on the north side...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, you are being drawn out by the sirens.

Allan Dodds Frank of our bureau here in New York joins us on the phone.

Allan, where are you?


Our colleague Jennifer Westhoven also arrived. She was closer to the building. I am just south of Canal Street, about 10 blocks north of the World Trade Center.

Just Before 10:00, parts of the building began peeling away. People started screaming -- Jennifer tells me, because she was a little closer to the building -- that the police began yelling, run, run, and thousands of people started running away from the buildings as they were falling. That was, of course, followed by an onrush of ambulances and special police vehicles. Some people have told us -- though I can't confirm this -- that dozens of stories of the building have fallen away, maybe down as low as the 30th floor.

AARON (ph): And again, just because we lost a little bit of the beginning, where are you physically now.

FRANKS: I am just out of the Holland Tunnel in downtown Manhattan, perhaps 10 to or 15 blocks north of the World Trade Center.

AARON: Got it.

The pictures that our viewers are looking at was that collapse of the south tower a few minutes ago.

FRANKS: Correct.

AARON: Here in New York.

FRANKS: Yes, and moments after that, people began running towards us. Jennifer Westhoven, who is normally at the stock exchange, was only about five blocks away, and she saw the same thing.

AARON: Allan, thank you. Let me go to one of New York's deputy mayors.


AARON: What are you hearing, Randy.

MASTRO: I only know what I have seen on television. I have tried to talk to some friends...

AARON: Hand me -- there we go. Hand me the microphone. There we go.

MASTRO: I only know what I have heard on television and tried to speak to some friends, and obviously, phone lines, communication is difficult. You know, nothing prepares you in life for a senseless tragedy like this one. But there is no city better prepared to deal with such emergency situations than New York City.

AARON: Tell me, based on the plan, what is happening 30 blocks away.

MASTRO: Sure. Mayor Giuliani established early on an Office of Emergency Management to coordinate all of the government agencies involved, so you have coordinated leadership of police, fire, health, all of the city agencies responding to that emergency. They have planned for this kind of event. Unfortunately, this is not a unique concerns in the life of New York City or our country. Tragedies like this...

AARON: It may not be a unique occurrence, but it is a very rare and extraordinary one.

MASTRO: It is extraordinary, and therefore, in New York City, we have coordinated response, and they're responding now and providing every help that they can under these extraordinary circumstances.

AARON: Hang on one second. We have a report now of an explosion on Capitol Hill, and we are checking that out. We have a report of a plane crashing at the Pentagon, the Pentagon being evacuated. Fire on the Mall in Washington, the State Department evacuated, and we have all flights shut down across the county as officials sort out what is happening here.

Randy, back to you for a second.

If I recall this correctly, there is what was called a bunker, the mayor's bunker, for these sorts of events, in the Trade Center, correct?

MASTRO: There is an Emergency Management Center at the Trade Center.

AARON: Clearly, the mayor is not there.

MASTRO: I have not spoken with the mayor, so I don't know his physical location, but I do know that that coordinated emergency response started immediately. It's something that the city prepares for, and it's something that under these tragic circumstances, the city is doing everything it can do to respond.

AARON: How much of the plan changed after the World Trade Center bombing, in '93.

MASTRO: There was no coordinated city response. There was no Mayor's Office of Emergency Management. Rudy Giuliani established that. It's been one of the hallmarks of his tenure. And unfortunately, there are circumstances like this one where that coordinated effort has to come into play and is coming into play now.

AARON: If you can, stay with us for a little bit.


AARON: I suspect other questions are going to come up.

I want to go through again what we know here at this point and also point some things that are not insignificant that we don't know. And one of the things we don't know is we do not now know how many fatalities there have been, and how many injuries there are. We can only surmise that this has been catastrophic, a catastrophic event here in New York, both Trade Center towers hit. One of them appears to have collapsed. How much of it collapsed? These are very large -- in any case, we cannot tell you how many injuries, how many fatalities there have been. This is one of those situations that is extraordinary chaotic. Even in the best of planning, I think it's fair to say that it is chaotic. And officials are trying to do many things at one time.

We have on the phone a pilot who witnessed these planes crashing into the World Trade Center.

Sir, can you tell me your name? John, can you hear me?

PILOT: Yes, I can.

AARON: John, tell me what you saw.

PILOT: This morning, we were at midtown Manhattan in a 31st floor of a building facing south. We saw a 767 flying low down the center of Manhattan Island, heading towards downtown Manhattan. At about maybe 20 blocks north of the World Trade Center, we saw the plane veer to the left and fly directly into the north side of the south tower.

AARON: So, this was the second plane that hit the tower, correct?

PILOT: No, this was the first plane.

AARON: Got it.

PILOT: This was the 767. AARON: John -- got it -- hang on.

Kate Snow's on Capitol Hill.

Kate, what can you tell us about the events there.

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I am a couple blocks away from the Capitol right now. I can tell you about a half hour ago, the Capitol building itself was evacuated. It was a little bit chaotic. Everyone was running out of the building. People ran a couple of blocks away. Now have now been pushed back by security. We're within two blocks of the Capitol.

I did see a plane, about a half hour ago, circling over the Capitol. Now whether that may have been a Air Force plane, it's unclear. But that seemed to be the reason, according to security guards that I talked with, towards the evacuation of the Capitol. They had seen something or heard something suspicious. They evacuated the Capitol and the surrounding buildings, the office buildings -- at least on the House side, where I am standing. There are three office buildings. Those have also been evacuated. We're seeing members of Congress who are walking by us here on the sidewalk.

AARON: Kate.

SNOW: Go ahead.

AARON: Kate, I am sorry, and if you said this, I apologize, and I apologize to viewers too -- was there, to your knowledge, an explosion at the Capitol?

SNOW: No, sir, there was not. I can see the Capitol from here, and everything looks to be fine. There was, however, Aaron, a sound about five minutes ago that sounded like some sort of explosion, and everything is in close proximity here in Washington. It could be that that may have been something that happened at the Pentagon. We're not very clear on that. But we did hear a sound. We heard something that sounded like a loud boom about five minutes ago.

AARON: And Kate, you are, again, about how far away from the Capitol building itself?

SNOW: I am standing on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is the main artery in Washington, D.C., and I'm about two blocks away from the Capitol. I did just see a spokesperson, by the way, for the speaker of the House, Mr. Dennis Hastert, who tells me that Mr. Hastert and others leaders have been evacuated into what he called the secure location. It's not clear where exactly they are, but they have been put somewhere secure.

AARON: Because we can't see it at this point, give me a sense of what is looks like there? Are there many, many people on the street?

SNOW: Yes, the sidewalks -- people are calm. I think most people really don't really know what is going on. Most people haven't been watching the news. But the sidewalks are definitely full of people, where, normally, at this time of the morning, there wouldn't be that many people out here. And as I say, I have been passed by numerous members of Congress and staff who I know well have been coming past me, asking me what has been going to.

AARON: Kate, why don't you hang around here and continue to report on that.

For those viewers who are joining us, at about 10:20 Eastern Daylight Time -- let me just briefly recap -- attacks on two American cities: New York and the capitol, in Washington. It began at about 8:45 Eastern time, when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. That building -- that was the building hit first -- and then about a half an hour later, a second plane -- and I a not sure if we have the tape available -- if we do, we will show it to you -- you can see the second plane coming in from the right side of your screen going into the tower itself. This is an extraordinary and troubling piece of tape.

The Justice Department is now being evacuated. The second attack on the Trade Center occurred about a half an hour or so after the first one. We have a report, CNN has been told, that an American Airlines 767 jet was hijacked out of Boston today. We don't know which of those two planes hit the tower the second time. Within the last 10 minutes or so, the south tower, or at least a portion of the south tower, has collapsed.

CNN's David Ensor joins us from Washington.

David, where in the Capitol are you now?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, I'm in our bureau, but I have on the telephone with me Barbara, who is the wife a friend of mine and who is an eyewitness to exactly what happened at the Pentagon.

Barbara, can you hear me all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I can hear you.

ENSOR: Well, what exactly did you see? Let's look at the Pentagon now, as you describe what exactly happened at the Pentagon this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we were driving into town on 395, there was an exit. We were trying to get off of the exit for the Memorial Bridge. On the left-hand side, there was a commercial plane coming in, and was coming in too fast and the too low, and the next thing we saw was a go-down below the side of the road, and we just saw the fire that came up after that.

ENSOR: How large was the explosion.


ENSOR: Was there a sound as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We -- that I can't verify, because the windows were up in the vehicle.

ENSOR: Was it clear to you what had happened?


ENSOR: So you believe it was a commercial airliner that was hitting the Pentagon?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and I'm not sure exactly where the Pentagon, where it was in relationship top where the plane went down. You know, but it was relatively close to one another. Whether it hit any of the Pentagon, I am not sure.

ENSOR: How low was the plane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When it was coming down?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was coming on less than a 45 degree angle, and coming down towards the side of the -- of 395. And when it came down, it just missed 395 and went down below us, and then you saw the boom -- the fire come up from it.

ENSOR: Were you able to see what kind of plane, or what airline it belonged to?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I did not see what kind of an airline. I just assumed because we were so close to the airport, that it was coming in to land.

ENSOR: But it seemed awfully low to you?


ENSOR: How big was the fireball?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm spatially challenged at times, and it was pretty big.

ENSOR: What did you think was happening?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that that hit the ground and exploded.

ENSOR: Were you frightened yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, everybody stopped the cars, and we all got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and so forth.

ENSOR: All right, well, thank you very much. I appreciate you talking to us.

Aaron, back to you.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: David, thank you. CNN's David Ensor in Washington.

CNN's Brian Palmer joins us on the phone from here in Manhattan.

Brian, why don't you begin by telling me where you are.

BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are in front of the criminal courthouse after being pushed north slightly. We watched one of the towers of the World Trade Center disappear from the skyline. It basically folded into itself into a plume of gray smoke. A crowd of thousands of people dashed up Broadway, followed by emergency services personnel. That's what we know. We are watching the plume of smoke and debris just sort of lost across lower Manhattan, and people are lining up at this pay phone behind me, trying to find out whether their relatives are safe.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me just briefly go to Randy. Randy, just look out there and tell me what you are thinking, when you see what now appears that at least part of one of the landmark buildings in this city, one of the most recognizable buildings in the country is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the kind of moment you hope will never come. When you have been in government, when you care as much about this city and this country, as a mayor like Rudy Giuliani does, it's a moment you pray will never come, and you pray for the families of anyone affected by this tragedy. But as a city, you know, we come together, and our emergency services provide every support they can in the face of such a senseless tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's -- it is an unbelievable scene as you...


UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... look down. I mean, we stand here at some point every day looking out at this city this time of year. It's extraordinarily pretty, and we see those two buildings high above lower Manhattan, and you look out there today, and you see this gaping hole in one of them. This plumes of smoke that continue to pore from the scene, and you know, that there is nothing behind, that second tower, or at least parts of it gone. We are joined now, one of our affiliates, WYNW, in their coverage here in New York.

Well, we will -- we'll try and make that connection again. In two cities now, and there are a lot of pieces of information floating around. We need to try to button up some of this. We had a report earlier that we now -- we believe that we can tell you it was not correct, that there was an explosion at capitol. There was none as we now believe. There was no explosion at the Capitol. There -- air travel routed to Canada has been -- international flights going into the United States or into Canada, guys, into the United States, international flights headed for the United States are being sent to Canada now to airports there, as all air traffic in the United States has come to a halt. The FAA has shut down every airport in the country. And to our knowledge, and we're -- this is to the best of our memory, that has never happened before. We're starting to get some pictures of the scene from the ground here in Manhattan.

Again, this all started almost about an hour and a half ago, I guess, a little more than that. This is a live picture of the scene now. We have crews on the ground, and they've been trying to get tape back, so we can show you the situation on the ground. As you can imagine, literally, thousands of police, fire, rescue officials have converged on the scene. There are, and we don't know how many injured to be tended to, to be taken to hospitals, and we continue to check hospitals to find out how many, the extend of injuries. We do not yet know how many fatalities.

There is the scene. This is taped now from WABC here in New York. Their crews shot this picture, as you see, fire trucks, and firefighters, rescue personnel at the Trade Center about 30 blocks from where we are right now. And you can see these huge columns of smoke coming off of the front tower, and then a bit from the back. As you see, again, the crews working their way towards the tower themselves.

It was 1993 that I suspect many of these same firefighters converged on these very same towers after the bombing in the garage level. Help me with this. But I am pretty sure it was in the garage, right, when a Ryder truck came in and blew up in the garage. I am not sure if it was A Ryder truck, but a truck came in and blew up in the garage and that was in 1993.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard a big bang, and then we saw smoke coming out, everybody started running out, and we saw the plane on the other side of the building, and there was smoke everywhere, and people are jumping out of the windows over there. They're jumping out of the windows, I guess, because they are trying to save themselves. I don't know. And -- I don't know. Everybody just doesn't know where to go. They won't let -- everything is blocked out. They are telling us to get out, but there is nowhere to go, and then I heard another plane was hit. And if you go by there, you can see the people jumping out of the window. They are jumping out of the window right now. Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: All right. Ma'am, thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN ANCHOR: That is one of the witnesses to this extraordinary. These extraordinary events this morning here in New York. Again, and I know that for many of you, you have heard this a lot. But I think it's important, as people join us, as they do, in moments like this. They are coming in all of the time, that there had been attacks in two American cities, New York and in Washington. The trade centers here in New York have been hit by airplanes. In Washington, there is a large fire at the Pentagon. The Pentagon has been evacuated. And there as you can see, perhaps the second tower, the front tower, the top portion of which is collapsing.

Good Lord. There are no words. You can see large pieces of the building falling. You can see the smoke rising. You can see a portion of this -- the side of the building now just being covered on the right side as I look at it, covered in smoke. This is just a horrific scene and a horrific moment.

The president, who is in Florida today, is en route back to the White House. He took off a short time ago. The White house itself has been evacuated on the basis of what the Secret Service says was a credible threat on the mansion itself. We believe now that we can say that both -- that portions of both towers of the World Trade Center have collapsed.

Whether there were second explosions, that is to say, explosions other than the planes hitting them that caused this to happen, we cannot tell you.

Rose Arce, one of our CNN producers, is on the phone with us.

Rose, what do you got.

ROSE ARCE, CNN PRODUCER: I'm about a block away, and there were several people that were hanging out of the windows right below where the plane crashed, when suddenly you saw the top of the building start to shake, and people began leaping from the windows in the north side of the window. You saw two people at first plummet, and then a third one, and then the entire top of the building just blew up, and splinters of debris are falling on the street.

Where I am right now there's a thick plume of smoke and you can see crowds of people, including emergency workers and police officers. running from the scene screaming. And there's a school nearby, where there were kids in the school yard. That has been emptied out and they're running up the street now too.

The whole sort of the neighborhood, I would say, several blocks up, is covered by this almost powdery smoke, little tiny pieces of building you can see just floating in the wind around it. It's almost like a huge cloud had kind of enveloped that part of lower Manhattan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. It is just one of those awful moments that you need to look at for a minute or two to absorb exactly what has happened.

Two of the most recognizable buildings in the city of New York have been attacked and both of them appear to have collapsed, at least in part. The second of the two collapses taking place just a moment or so ago, perhaps two or three minutes ago.

There are also, apparently, coordinated attacks that have taken place in Washington on the Pentagon, the State Department has been evacuateed.

Just a few moments ago, as we said, and perhaps 20 minutes after the first tower collapsed, we turned around and saw what looked like sparks falling, and then the top part of tower number one collapsing. These are shots from the ground of that scene.