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EXPLOSION AT THE TWIN TOWERS: Size of Blast 'Destroyed' Rescue Plan

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Kristin Moore
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« on: April 10, 2011, 02:46:40 am »

EXPLOSION AT THE TWIN TOWERS: The Response; Size of Blast 'Destroyed' Rescue Plan
Published: February 27, 1993

 Correction Appended

Evacuation plans for the World Trade Center were rendered useless yesterday because the explosion devastated its police command and operations centers, Port Authority officials said.

As a result, tens of thousands of office workers were left to fend for themselves in terrifying confusion as they groped their way with no organized leadership down as many as 100 flights of stairs in darkness and choking smoke.

Charles Maikish, the director of the World Trade Center, said that it had an elaborate evacuation plan but that it was "destroyed" by the blast, which almost immediately knocked out most of the main power system, which serves both towers. Not only did the explosion severely damage the police desk and the operations center for the entire complex, but it knocked out their electricity, telephones, closed-circuit television monitors and public-address system.

Mr. Maikish said that a set of generators that could have powered the emergency systems was also lost when the blast severed lines that carry water to cool the generators. Only the Vista Hotel and 7 World Trade Center, across Vesey Street from the main complex, still had power.

Mark Marchese, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said later that the enmergency generators could also have powered a system that would have reversed the towers' exhaust fans to suck out the smoke.

Sal Samperi, the deputy director of the Port Authority police, said, "Our initial control desk was an officer with a walkie-talkie." Bomb-Proof, Studies Said

As described by Mr. Maikish, the public-address system and other components of the communications system are the linchpins of an evacuation plan that he said was practiced two or three times a year. It involves directing a network of fire safety marshals on every floor of each tower to the safest stairways, based on information received in large part through the television monitors.

Stephen R. Berger, the former director of the Port Authority, said that the bistate agency, which runs the buildings, had commissioned studies on terrorist attacks before the centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986; he said the studies concluded that the trade center could withstand a car bombing in an underground garage.

"They said you could sustain a car bomb," he said. "What they didn't tell us was you couldn't sustain it if it was perfectly placed."

Mr. Samperi said it was unclear at this point how well many of the fire marshals performed. Furious at Lack of Help

But as an army of city police officers, firefighters and ambulance teams massed in a 10-block area around the towers, it was clear that many trade center workers, their faces streaked with soot as they streamed from the buildings only to slip on snow-slicked pavements, were furious at being left to guess their way out. The rage swept from workers in Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's office on the 57th floor to those who happened to be in the building for lunch and credited their fast exit to the canniness of busboys.

"There was no information anywhere about anything," said Karen Eggleston, who was attending a training seminar on the 87th floor when the lights went out. "It was totally uncoordinated. You were on your own."

Once on the street, the evacuees, often shaken and gasping, received help from firefighters, ambulance workers and the Red Cross.

Those who weren't whisked to area hospitals huddled, blankets draped over their shoulders, in twos and threes. Many sobbed as they waited for blankets. At one point, dozens of people clamored around an ambulance, gasping, coughing and spitting as they grabbed for oxygen masks. Many, with red eyes and soot-blackened faces, simply sat on the icy ground, breathing heavily, as the snow fell.

Six people, including a pregnant woman, were taken from the roof of Tower 1 by a police helicopter. Emergency Officials Tried

As the day wore on, as many as 300 Port Authority police officers filtered into the building, aided by hundreds of city police, fire and Emergency Medical Service workers, to guide people through the choking smoke.

Rescue workers helped victims out of the building and over to an ambulance and a nearby Emergency Medical Service bus.

The emergency workers, from a host of agencies, also leaned against ambulances on occasion, gasping with exhaustion and from the inhalation of smoke during their forays into the center. Then they headed back into the complex to find more who were stranded.

Charles Knox, the Port Authority's director of public safety, said: "We do have evacuation plans for normal situations, but we have never experienced anything like this. This is the most devastating situation the World Trade Center has had to confront."

Photos: Smoke billowed from a west entrance to 1 World Trade Center yesterday after a bomb exploded below. A man lay injured from the blast on the ramp to the underground garage at Vessey and West Streets. (Photographs by Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times)
Correction: March 1, 1993, Monday A picture caption on Saturday with articles about the explosion at the World Trade Center misidentified a building shown with smoke billowing from an entrance. It was the New York Vista Hotel
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