WORLD

TOWERS OF TERROR

A TERRORIST BOMB IS SUSPECTED AFTER FIRE AND PANIC ENVELOP MANHATTAN SKYSCRAPERS

BRUCE WALLACE March 8 1993
WORLD

TOWERS OF TERROR

A TERRORIST BOMB IS SUSPECTED AFTER FIRE AND PANIC ENVELOP MANHATTAN SKYSCRAPERS

BRUCE WALLACE March 8 1993

TOWERS OF TERROR

WORLD

A TERRORIST BOMB IS SUSPECTED AFTER FIRE AND PANIC ENVELOP MANHATTAN SKYSCRAPERS

Workers on the upper floors of the world’s second-largest office building felt only a shudder, but within moments they were choking on black smoke, which filled their corridors. Those closer to street level or passing through the parking garage underground actually heard the explosion. Concrete floors sank from under them, cars were tossed through the air and many were injured by flying metal or were trapped under fiery debris. The explosion that ripped through the foundation of Manhattan’s twin 110-storey World Trade Center towers last week killed five people, injured 1,042 others and occurred with no warning, no time to flee, no chance to take cover. More horrifying was the assessment by police of what had caused the blast. “In all probability,” said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, “this was a bomb.”

It could have been even more deadly. At noon on a working weekday, the Trade Center is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Located on the fringes of Wall Street’s financial hub, the two skyscrapers, which reach one-third of a mile into the air, are the workplace for more than 55,000 people. Those who were inside at 12:18 on Feb. 26 when the explosion occurred told harrowing stories of escape from what threatened to become a towering inferno.

A pregnant woman was among 23 people plucked from a tower rooftop by helicopter; several other pregnant women struggled with the mass of people who walked down the same fire escape stairwells that had sucked smoke as high as the 96th floor. And a class of Brooklyn kindergarten students visiting the Center on a field trip took several hours to walk down from the observatory on the 107th floor, singing to stave off panic. “It was like sardines, cattle, a herd,” said Larry Bianculli, 31, who walked 104 floors to the street where he joined thou-

sands of others who burst outside, many bloodied, most gulping for fresh air.

The damage was so extensive that investigators could not immediately reach the site of the explosion. That was cause enough for them to suspect that a powerful bomb had been smuggled into the parking garage and detonated. The blast left a 60-foot crater in the underground garage and blew out a huge wall, raining debris down onto the platform and tracks of a commuter train station below. Police also found traces of nitrate, often indicative of a bomb, and said that the amount of heat generated in the aftermath could not have been caused by an electrical fault or gas explosion. Said New York Gov. Mario Cuomo: “It looks like a bomb, it smells like a bomb, it’s probably a bomb.”

Police also received at least nine phone calls claiming responsibility for the blast—all after the fact. If it was a terrorist act, New Yorkers face the same frightening sense of vulnerability to which residents of such cities as Cairo and London have grown accustomed. Indeed a bomb placed inside a trash can on a fashionable street in the north London shopping district of

Camden Town exploded just one day after the Manhatten drama, injuring 14 people. But Londoners face the intermittent bombing campaigns by the Irish Republican Army with a certain stoicism. New Yorkers, despite being hardened to daily acts of random violence, were left stunned by the Trade Center blast and unnerved by the prospect of a terrorist war that might be waged against American citizens on American soil. “We all have that feeling of being violated,” said Cuomo. “As a New Yorker, I expect to find out what happened and who did it.”

Until then, New York officials said that they had increased security measures at major sites and at airports. And security was tightened in Washington as a precaution against further attacks. “What used to be the safest city in the world will be safer still,” Cuomo said in an attempt to reassure New Yorkers. But Denise Bosco, a secretary who walked down 82 flights of stairs to escape was dubious. “I’ll never go into that building again,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m not going back in there. Ever.”

BRUCE WALLACE