NEW YORK | At 9:15 a.m. EDT, the zipper in Times Square is reporting the day’s usual events: An unmanned surveillance plane was shot down over Iraq.
Then all hell breaks loose.
9:29 a.m.: The A-train headed downtown: A woman in a green floral dress is crying. She says it was two planes that flew into the World Trade Center. Sandra Whitfield is a procurement analyst trying to get to her job at the municipal building across from City Hall.
“I saw it from the bus,” she says, dabbing at her eyes. “Everybody was saying my God, my God.
“One plane went in and another went in right behind it.” she says. “They hit that building and they just erupted.”
9:40: On the A-train at 14th Street, a police department photo unit detective is headed south. Strapped across his shoulders are two Nikon cameras and in his carryall bag, 7 rolls of film.
“I’m just doing this for myself,” he says. “This is a historic event.”
9:43: Still on the A-train, stalled. A CNN producer and the police detective leave the immobile train as a disembodied voice announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have delays due to a problem at the World Trade Center.”
9:45: Melody Malave, a fund-raiser for the New York City public schools who works in Chinatown, is running down the street southward with her father. “I’m supposed to be at work right now,” she said. “But forget it.”
In front of a bodega on Houston a young woman munches a croissant, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s so intense.”
In the triangle at Hudson and Bleeker streets, 40 people stand around dumbstruck, staring at the top of the tower that is now billowing with smoke, so thick and black it looks like a thunderstorm approaching.
9:50: First word hits the street of that the White House was evacuated and another plane crashed into the Pentagon. Car radios blare the news. “The United States has effectively been sealed.”
Rivers of people are northbound on the sidewalks, in the streets, dazed, crying, hugging one another. Looks like the end of the world.
On the West Side Highway, 34-year-old Daniel Hatter, a freelance photographer, drapes himself over a large green road sign. He looked wilted. The sign said “World Trade Center.”
“The thing that’s going through my mind,” says Hatter, “is that this is what sets off wars.”
Ladies in pinstripe business suits and strings of pearls pluck their way around stalled garbage trucks and UPS vans, abandoned in the streets, heading northbound toward their apartments and condos uptown.
“We’re just trying to get home,” says one.
Choppers buzz in the air, fighter planes blast overhead.
“I feel better now that the fighter planes have arrived,” says Matt Lubrano, an executive at Wings International, a global shipping company at 67 Vestry St.
Lubrano and Paul Sipos, president of South Pass Transart on Washington and Canal, 15 blocks north of the World Trade Center, offer open phone lines and chilled bottles of water to passers-by while they hug their employees in the warehouse.
10:16 a.m.: On the West Side Highway seven blocks from the World Trade Center, a firefighter named Jimmy stands by his truck buckling the last of his gear.
“We’re on our way to go in there,” he says. “I can do this job but I don’t want to be a target when I do it.”
Then he climbs into the truck alongside his buddies, a truck with canvas hoses neatly bundled onto the side, and with that as protection heads south down the highway toward the inferno. All along the street as fire trucks wail, people offer the firefighters gestures of good luck.