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EXPLOSION AT THE TWIN TOWERS: The Scene; First, Darkness, Then Came the Smoke

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Kristin Moore
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« on: April 10, 2011, 02:26:33 am »

EXPLOSION AT THE TWIN TOWERS: Television; News Coverage Plays Central Role in Story
Published: February 27, 1993

WNBC's Chuck Scarborough instructed people trapped in the World Trade Center to remove the ceiling tiles from their offices. WWOR-TV urged those stuck in the building to call the station and report their locations. And WCBS's Jim Jensen tried, in a conversation on the air, to reassure a worker trapped on the 107th floor.

With a tremor in his voice, the worker, Scott Salem, said that the smoke in his office was getting worse and that the people trapped with him, especially one woman who was pregnant and having trouble breathing, were growing increasingly anxious. "We did break the window, because a lot of people were panicking," he said.

No emergency crew had yet visited the floor.

"Tell them to calm down," Mr. Jensen instructed Mr. Salem on the air. "We're going to try to get help to you."

Yesterday's explosion at the World Trade Center was a thoroughly modern tragedy -- one in which the television coverage became a central part of the drama. Throughout the afternoon and evening, New York City newscasters gave out emergency phone numbers, urged calm on those trapped inside and praised the work of the city's emergency crews. Signals Lost

But because the drama took place at the World Trade Center, where most New York City broadcast stations have their transmitters, most of the coverage could be seen only on cable channels. More than three million households in the city and its suburbs were affected by the loss of over-the-air signals.

When the explosion shook the World Trade Center yesterday at 12:18 P.M., one of the city's network affiliates, WNBC, was knocked off the air right away. About an hour later, the power to the World Trade Center was cut off and several other broadcast stations, including WABC, WNYW and WWOR, also lost their ability to transmit.

By midafternoon WCBS, which maintains backup equipment at the Empire State Building, was the city's only broadcast station still transmitting over the air. The station was flooded with calls from people trapped inside the building who were apparently watching WCBS on battery-operated televisions. 'Part of the Story'

"We tried to connect people with the Fire Department and the police," Bud Carey, the station's general manager, said. He noted that the station was in the unusual position of "being part of the story and trying to report the story."

Virtually all of the city's broadcast stations feed their signals directly to Time Warner Cable, which operates cable systems in Manhattan and Queens. Cable subscribers in much of the city, therefore, could receive the stations yesterday afternoon even though the stations were unable to transmit over the air.

Much of the coverage had the raw, edgy tone of a report from an emergency room: the death toll rose, fell, then rose again. There was a stream-of-consciousness quality to the coverage, and many unsubstantiated theories about what had caused the blast made it onto the air. A faulty transformer, an exploding car and finally a bomb were forwarded tentatively, then amended as police and the F.B.I. gave out more information. Occasional Blunders

Occasionally, there were what could only be described as blunders. At one point, for example, WCBS's Frank Field instructed those trapped inside the World Trade Center to smash their office windows. This prompted an outraged phone call from a New York City firefighter who upbraided Mr. Field on the air and warned against tossing objects out the windows that could strike people on the ground.

The three major network affiliates -- WCBS, WNBC, WABC -- all began continuous coverage of the World Trade Center explosion about 1 P.M. WNYW, the local Fox station, began its live coverage shortly before 2 P.M. WWOR and WPIX, both independent stations, also had live coverage throughout the afternoon.

On cable, New York 1, the Time-Warner station devoted to New York news, covered the crisis continuously, and CNN devoted much of the afternoon to it.

By the end of the day, some of the stations that had been knocked off the air found ways to transmit their signals.

WNBC said that it had made arrangements with WLIW, Channel 21 on Long Island, to transmit its signal. And WNET, the Channel 13 public television station, announced that it would be broadcasting on Channel 25 using the New York City Board of Education's transmitter in Brooklyn.
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