NEW YORK, Sept. 11 -- An exhausted city staggered into the night Tuesday after the World Trade Center, a landmark of the Manhattan skyline, was finished off in a mind-boggling terrorist attack watched by millions of people around the world.
Nearly 12 hours after two hijacked airliners plowed into the twin towers that had withstood a 1993 terrorist bombing, the area around what had once been a symbol of America's economic success was virtually deserted, left to the battered New York police and fire departments and to the scores of commuters stranded in the city.
"It was terrible, terrible," one man cried into his cell phone as he walked down the sidewalk, "but it's peaceful now."
It will be days before there is an official death toll; however, the final tally is expected to be grim with more than 200 police officers and firefighters estimated to be among the victims.
"This is hell; this is hell," a veteran firefighter told United Press International, as he stood on a corner in the gathering twilight along with a group of rookies from Yonkers who realized they were now stranded in the Big Apple.
"They threw us into this and turned us loose; what a baptism by fire," said one of the youthful firefighters.
Scores of police were standing at corners within a mile perimeter of the Trade Towers. There were hundreds of motorcycle officers, as well. A line of sanitation trucks was lined up in lower Manhattan; all facing north, looking like soldiers from a surreal war, waiting to go into battle.
People were hurriedly walking north, some carrying their pets in carriers, grim-faced with the enormity and lunacy of the event and facing the more pedestrian prospect of hiking up several flights of stairs to apartments with no electricity.
Truckloads of rescue personnel were still heading to the area of devastation. New York Police Department vans were packed to the gills with people wearing dust masks on their heads, also going into the dark night to search the apocalyptic aftermath.
Trucks were marshaled along Houston Street awaiting the order to move in and begin hauling away debris. Water trucks gained a new significance when police cars escorted them as they went back and forth to the World Trade Center where rescue workers were desperate for hydration.
Jackie Thanasoulis, who lives in Battery Park, a quarter mile from the scene of the tragedy, was in the shower when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. From her 33rd-floor vantage point, she saw a gaping hole in the building but said she was unable to process what had happened.
"It seemed odd to me because when I was a kid and saw the movies, you could see the plane in the Empire State Building it was such a shock," she told UPI.
Thanasoulis said she gathered herself together and did what she did every day: she went to open her restaurant, Ivy's Bistro, on Greenwich Street and North Moore. She said that most of the restaurants in the area were closed and she felt she had to do something to help.
She worked into the night, serving up coffee and cold drinks to the civilians and rescue workers who came, most covered in concrete dust, smoke, appearing hollow-eyed from the shock.
One firefighter, she told UPI, slumped in a corner and wept inconsolably for the co-workers who had been buried when the towers crashed to the ground. Another customer said he had a twin who worked in the World Trade Center and probably was now dead.
Another New Yorker told UPI by telephone: "My cousin is missing -- he worked in the Trade Center, in the second building that was hit. He called his wife after the first building was hit and said they were being evacuated. That was the last anyone heard from him. He was on the 103rd floor."
In a tavern not far from St. Vincent's Hospital, the Cowgirl Caf, on Hudson Street in the West Village, a half-dozen surgeons were on a dinner break from what turned out to be slow day. St. Vincent's and other New York hospitals had geared up for a flood of injured, but the crunch never came.
"It was so discouraging that we got so few patients in surgery," said Robert Grossi, chief of vascular surgery at St. Vincent's. "We had one fireman who died twice on the table, but he ultimately died of massive internal injuries."
Three patients died and some 200 people were treated at St. Vincent's after the incident, mostly for smoke inhalation and some cuts caused by shrapnel.
Grossi said that at "the 12th hour, it's extremely unlikely to think that anyone could have survived the smoke inhalation, even if they had been trapped."
Many of the St. Vincent's surgeons had been on duty when the Feb. 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had occurred.
"The big disappointment is that at this number of hours in 1993, we were feeling pretty good; it didn't get close this time and we feel horrible," lamented Grossi.
Triage had been set up at Stuyvesant High School and again, there were hundreds of medical personnel on-hand to treat the injured.
"When we were there," said Dr. Steven Wong, "not one person showed up for treatment."
Dr. Joseph De Bellis, a reconstructive plastic surgeon, who had come into the City from Long Island, echoed the sentiments of futility.
"There were no patients, though. I had numbers of several other surgeons who were waiting for a call, but there was no need," said De Bellis.
When told that the tri-state area's medical examiners were sending in their supplies of body bags to the scene, Dr. Grossi said: "They're going to need them."