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10 Years Since 9/11

August 31st, 2011

Photographs of those killed during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo credit: Jeeny via United States Department of Justice

Ten Years Since 9/11

August 31, 2011 — This September 11th marks 10 years since 9/11.  Over 3,ooo people died on September 11, 2001 when four planes were hijacked (taken over) by members of the overseas-based terrorist group Al-Qaeda (often pronounced Al-keye-duh). Terrorists aim to spread fear and their beliefs through violence.

The attacks of that day resulted in the single largest loss of life on American soil from a foreign attack.  The names of those who died, including a short paragraph about each person, easily fills a 500-page book. Citizens of nearly half the world’s countries were among the dead.

Two of the planes, which left from Boston that morning, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were intentionally crashed into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.  2,823 people died, including 343 firefighters. 92 passengers and crew were on the flight.

American Airlines Flight 77, which took off from Dulles Airport near Washington D.C., crashed into the Pentagon — headquarters of the United States military leadership.  189 people were killed, including 64 passengers and crew members.

Terrorists may have been targeting the fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, for the White House or the U.S. Capitol building. The passengers on board heroically tried to regain control of the plane from the hijackers crashing the plane in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All 45 passengers and crew on board were killed but their actions likely saved many lives at the intended target.

September 11, 2001 started out as a sunny Tuesday morning like many others. Families kissed each other goodbye as they went off to work or school. But by around 9 am, the day had gone terribly wrong.  There were reports that a plane had hit one of the two World Trade Center towers but many people thought initially that it must have been an accident by a small plane.

About 15 minutes later, another plane hit the second tower and people began to realize they weren’t accidents. Because news stations were already reporting on the first tower being hit, cameras were showing the towers as the second plane hit, live on television. And what viewers and other eyewitnesses saw wasn’t a small plane, it was a very large passenger airplane, flying much lower and much faster than usual, intentionally crashing into the building .

The World Trade Center represented much of what Al-Qaeda did not like about America — the buildings were among the tallest symbols of American business in the world. One of the towers had been previously attacked in 1993 by a truck driven into its underground parking lot with explosives in it. Increased security measures from that first attack have been credited with saving lives on 9/11.

The Twin Towers in 2000. Photo credit: Skye Van Saun via 911 Memorial Museum/Creative Commons

Even if you saw the Twin Towers in person, it’s hard to comprehend how big they were. The North Tower was 1,368 feet high (the one with the antenna), the South Tower was 1,362 feet high. Each tower had 110 floors. Each floor was an acre (close to the size of a football field on every floor). People who worked there sometimes joked that they got their exercise just walking to the other end of their office.  30,000 cups of coffee were served every day to the 50,000 people who worked there and the over 150,000 people who used the subways and trains underneath on a daily basis. Five other smaller buildings made up the entire World Trade Center complex.

The buildings weren’t full yet that morning. It was early and many people were still on their way to work. The observation deck wasn’t open yet so there weren’t many tourists  yet either. It was also early in the school year and some parents were taking their children to school. It was voting day in primary elections and some people were delayed stopping to vote on their way to work. And there had been an exciting football game on TV the night before between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos. The game ended after midnight and Giants fans who stayed up late to cheer their team on may have gotten a later, sleepy start the next morning.  All these factors may have played a role in less people being in the buildings when they were hit.

The first plane hit the North Tower at 8:48 am between the 93rd and 99th floors. The second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03 between the 77th and 85th floors.  It took many who were able to escape over an hour to get down the stairs.  Meanwhile firefighters and emergency responders selflessly made their way up the very same stairs people were filing down helping those who were burned or injured, and directing people down.

Photo credit: Flickr user Michael Foran via Creative Commons/Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, something almost unimaginable happened. The South Tower completely collapsed. And then half an hour later the North Tower collapsed too. The towers’ collapse killed many more people, including rescue workers who had arrived to help. By 10:30 am the Twin Towers, beacons in the New York City skyline, were completely gone.

110-story buildings were condensed into 10 stories of rubble. The dust created from the debris coated everything for blocks. Bob Walsh, Business Manager for Structural Ironworkers Local 40, described it this way: “The steel was all twisted like pretzels, peeled right off just like a banana.” Papers from offices fell like snow. World Trade Center buildings 5 and 7 also collapsed. Numerous other neighboring buildings partially collapsed or were damaged.

Photo credit: AP/Shawn Baldwin

New York city’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani (pronounced: Ju-lee-ah-nee) was quick to respond and led the city through the tragedy. The city’s Emergency Command Center had been located in one of the World Trade Center buildings so they had to operate out of an old firehouse not far away. Mayor Giuliani, an admirer of famous British World War II leader Sir Winston Churchill, later said he tried to emulate Churchill’s leadership during those difficult times.  President George W. Bush was reading a book to children in a 2nd grade classroom in Florida when he was informed of the attacks.

The clean-up effort at “Ground Zero” was enormous and dangerous. Fires within the wreckage burned 3 months later. One of the plane’s jet engines was found 1/3 of a mile away. Rescue workers would later get sick from breathing in the contaminated air at the site; some have since died.

Flag found near Ground Zero now on display at WTC Visitor Center. Photo: Claudia Heitler

The 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists directly involved in the attacks died but President Bush and later his successor, President Obama, vowed to bring the group and its leader, Osama bin Laden, to “justice”.  The United States, and its allies, led a “War on Terror”, including operations in Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda was based, and Iraq.  Troops are just now withdrawing from those countries. More American soldiers have lost their lives in the “War on Terror” than people who died on 9/11. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, was finally found by U.S. forces in May of this year .

Since September 11, 2001, our country and the way we live our daily lives has changed. Our government focuses a lot more on keeping our nation safe, both inside and outside our country, some in ways that we see and some that we don’t. For example, you may notice when you fly, that there are long lines to go through security to try to make sure that such plane hijackings don’t happen again.

In addition to the destruction, the anger, the sadness, and the war it spawned, 9/11 also brought out good in many people. Rescue workers worked tirelessly for months and regular citizens came together to help each other in ways they rarely had before. The Governor of New York at the time, George Pataki, said it well: “On that terrible day, a nation became a neighborhood.”

There was a lot of debate over whether the towers should be rebuilt, and if so, whether they should be the same as before. 1 World Trade (Freedom Tower) is currently under construction next to where the towers used to be.  It will be 1,776 feet high — symbolizing the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. It will be officially taller than the World Trade Center towers because of a lighted mast that will raise it to its symbolic height.  A memorial is also being dedicated on the tenth anniversary that includes reflecting pools in the “footprints” of the towers.

Construction of 1 World Trade as of August 2011. Photo: Claudia Heitler

On September 11, the nation will take time to honor and remember the people who unexpectedly lost their lives that day, including the emergency responders who saved so many lives that morning but in many cases not their own. Many will also give thanks to those who work to protect our freedom … and continue to hope that nothing like this ever happens again.

In the coming days I will be posting four personal perspectives from people’s experiences on September 11, 2001: a lower Manhattan New Yorker, a first responder, my own as a journalist, and sisters who lost their father that day.

Artwork displayed at WTC Tribute Visitor Center by Kevin Wang, 8 years old. Photo: Claudia Heitler

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256 Comments on “10 Years Since 9/11”

  • luis says:

    wow, i can’t believe it’s already been a whole decade.

  • Anonymous says:

    This is such a sad article. The picture at the bottom about made me want to cry. I can’t believe that such a terrible thing could be done by human beings to one another; it’s just awful. There’s a song about 9/11 I listened to once, with the names of all those killed/ missing – it makes me sick, since it also had the flight attendant’s message telling all the passengers she didn’t know what was going on. All those lives, lost… It’s just terrible.

  • Jack says:

    this article is demonstrating the lives and work into these buildings brought down by one man Osama Bin Laden.

  • jesus says:

    what a sad thing:(

  • Cynthia says:

    i wish the original Twin Towers could be rebuilt 🙁

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