WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 -- As rescuers searched Wednesday for victims and bodies in the rubble of New York City's twin towers brought down by two hijacked planes, the Department of Defense slashed casualty estimates for the Pentagon attack.
In New York officials said the death toll from the World Trade Center attack could soar into the thousands, but were careful to report only confirmed deaths. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said 55 people were confirmed dead and that the missing include "about 300 firefighters, probably about 40 New York City police officers and 30 or more Port Authority officers."
The first airplane attack slammed into one of the buildings at about 8:45 a.m., as the world's largest financial center was warming up for the day. A hijacked American Airlines flight sliced into the upper quarter of the north tower and 18 minutes later, a hijacked United Airlines flight plowed into the top of the south tower.
Emergency workers rushed to the scene and began their grisly work, but then the massive glass and steel structures where some 50,000 people worked began to weaken. The north tower fell at about 10:30 a.m. and the south tower followed shortly afterward, trapping an unknown number of rescuers and workers.
Rescuers feared more v victims might be trapped in nearby buildings damaged when the twin towers pancaked. Building No. 5 of the World Trade Center collapsed Wednesday. The 1 Liberty Plaza building just south of the World Trade Center suffered a partial collapse.
At least four people have been rescued from the rubble. More than 1,100 people made it Tuesday to the emergency rooms in hospitals around the city following attacks on the 1,300-foot buildings that landmarked Manhattan's southern tip.
Few people were admitted to nearby hospitals Wednesday, a sign there may be few survivors.
At St. Vincent's Hospital, the closest hospital to the World Trade Center, only four injured people arrived Wednesday, after the hospital treated 365 people Tuesday.
Mark Ackerman, a hospital spokesman, said the lack of patients was "very frustrating, especially for some of the nurses who have husbands in the fire department and haven't heard from them for 24 hours. But they are still working."
At Bellevue, 230 people, including 75 firefighters, and 21 police officers, were treated Tuesday.
Heavy equipment picked through the rubble yesterday, seeking victims and survivors. Rescuers checked each shovel of debris for human remains before it was hauled away.
Relatives of missing people have been showing up at Bellevue Hospital and at New York University Medical Center seeking word on their loved ones. Many carried photographs they showed to television cameras.
Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the medical examiner, said families of the missing are being sent to NYU, next to the morgue, where they are being supplied with identification kits.
"I can see the tension on their faces," said Borakove.
Borakove said all bodies are being brought to the morgue, where they are identified, before being sent to any other facility. She and New Jersey authorities said reports that bodies were being ferried to New Jersey were "absolutely false."
The rubble is five stories high and some pockets of fire remain. Thick gray and white smoke still blankets lower Manhattan, already covered by a thick coat of gritty dust.
Giuliani said realistic estimates of dead may not be known for awhile, and the cleanup of the rubble could take weeks.
Although there were 18 special search and rescue teams in the area, some were idle because conditions made it difficult to work.
Roger Tobias of Pennsylvania Task Force One was in New York when the attack occurred and rushed to volunteer.
"We can't go in until the smoke gets down," he told United Press International. He said the building had pancaked and teams were using special cameras and microphones to search.
"We believe survivors will be minimal, except for pockets and voids," he said. "But we don't want to leave here until every one possible is accounted for."
Peter Kirkiles, a volunteer rescue worker, said he had worked for about four hours passing pieces of metal, bucket-brigade style, from the rubble.
"I feel like I played a couple of football games," he said.
Another volunteer, city transit worker Bill Crowley, said he was working Wednesday morning searching for victims when they found a fireman.
"They found him underneath the rubble. they pulled him out and worked on him and he was alive, and everyone clapped."
Crowley, dust-covered and his eyes red from the gritty dust, said rescue workers were picking through the debris piece by piece.
"They're finding body parts," he said.
"These guys don't know the meaning of tired. They're like mountain climbers." He said he saw one fireman working two stories down in a hole searching for victims.
Authorities are continuing to appeal for assistance and for blood.
At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld disputed earlier estimates that casualties reached 800.
"From everything we currently know, the estimate that's been widely reported is considerably high, and we certainly pray that that's not the case," said Rumsfeld.
Senior officials estimated approximately 100 military personnel were killed in the attack. But officials had a hard time determining the exact number of people in the area at the time of the crash because civilian crews were renovating the area.
"It is folly to try to pretend there is a number when there is not a number," Rumsfeld said.
Pentagon spokeswomen Tori Clarke said she had "no confidence in 800" as a casualty figure.
Though Rumsfeld maintained estimates were high, a Defense Department statement said, "Reconnaissance efforts conducted overnight indicate that there are no survivors in the immediate collapsed area. Listening devices that have been able to get in have proven negative, and it is doubtful that anyone in the immediate impact area survived."
A commerical flight struck the southwest side of the Pentagon about 9:39 a.m. Tuesday morning, a half hour after the World Trade Center attacks. The plane's 58 passengers, four flight attendants and two pilots were killed in the crash.
Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee told UPI it was "highly improbable anyone survived" the attack and remained trapped in the rubble due to the intensity of the blast and fire. He said workers will be mindful of the bodies trapped inside when they begin their search.
"We want to be as respectful as possible to the bodies," Carlee said.
Firefighters managed to smother a blaze earlier Wednesday when a puddle of jet fuel caught fire, briefly slowing rescue efforts.
Rescue teams planned to use a wrecking ball in the collapse area before the fire.
All rescue work was organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA spokesman Mark O'Bourne, said four teams from Virginia, Maryland and Tennesee were setting up tents and equipment outside the stricken side of the Pentagon to begin the rescue mission.
"Our goal is to try and get some of the rescue folks out there and deploy them tonight," said Bourne. "But I'm not sure we will be able to," he said, citing safety concerns. He said engineers will work to determine how to stabilize the building so that could enter. Hazardous materials experts are on hand to assess the possiblity of noxious fumes in the building.
"The time may certainly come when the decision has be be made" Bourne said, to change the operation from a rescue mission to a corpse recovery operation. "But the teams will first go in to determine if anybody is in there," he said. "We will keep going until we have exhausted all the possibilties for recoviering people alive."
Bourne said the said the teams will work night and day "for at least the next few days."
Meanwhile, survivors of the attack were being treated at area hospitals. Military patients in stable condition at Northern Virginia facilities were scheduled to be transferrred to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"The overall plans involves bringing stable victims here for further care," said hospital spokeswoman Ann Ham.
At Virginia Hospital Center - Arlington, where many of the injured were taken, "things have quieted down a bit," said hospital spokeswoman Shay Raugh.
She said the hospital treated 44 attack victims and admitted 17 -- nine in intensive care. Raugh said most of the injuries were cuts, abrasions, burns and complications related to smoke inhalation.
Inova Hospital Alexandria said it had treated 22 victims and released 16 who had minor injuries. The six admitted were five firefighters, four in fair condition and one in good condition. The sixth man, Virginia State Trooper Michael Middleton, has been upgraded to serious condition. Middleton was lauded by local media for rescuing four people from the burning section of the building.
Officials at the hospital said they were overwhelmed by the show of support from the local community, as some 250 have volunteered to donate blood since the attack. "We had no idea we were going to have such an ovelwhelming response," said Administrator Ken Kozloff. "It was a phenomenal show support for their community hospital."
More than 200 people donated blood Tuesday at Washington Hospital Center in D.C. The hospital is a regional trauma and advanced burn center and had nine burn victims from the Pentagon attack.