The September 11th attack in 2001 (known as 9/11 as Americans write the month before the date) shocked the world. There have been many terrorist attacks throughout the world in the last few years but this series of 4 co-ordinated attacks that day caused widespread damage and a large number of deaths. Security has been tightened in Europe and especially America and subsequent attacks in London and Glasgow confirm that the responsible terrorists remain a huge threat.
I visited the ground zero site of the Twin Towers this summer and 6 years later, they are still working on the site. It made me realise what a huge disaster this had been and I wanted to learn more about it.
Where did it take place?
New York is made up of a series of islands. The business centre is on Manhattan Island. This is clustered at the South of the island and from the bay the skyline is a series of skyscrapers. The 2 towers of the World Trade Centre could be seen above the other skyscrapers. These were the targets for the first 2 hijacked aeroplanes.
The third target was the Pentagon near Washington DC.
The Fourth target is not known but thought to be also in Washington DC. The passengers on the plane tried to take back control of the plane but it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The attack was carried out by hijackers. These were divided into 4 teams and each team had at least 1 trained pilot. On the Morning of September 11th 2001 they hijacked 4 aeroplanes which were on route to California from Logan International, Dulles International and Newark airports.
At 8.48am the American airlines Flight 11 from Boston crashed into the North tower of the World Trade Centre. It hit the tower between the 95th and 103rd floors.
At 9.02 United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the 78-84th floors of the South tower of the World Trade Centre. This plane had also been flying from Boston.
This crash was captured by television broadcasters and amateur photographers who were still filming the North tower at the time.
At 9.37 the American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington crashed into the Pentagon.
This is the centre of the U-S Military and one of the 5 sides of the building collapsed. At this point President Bush evacuated the White House and the capital. He also closed all the airports.
At 10.03 United airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. It is not certain where the intended target was but the passengers had been trying to regain control from the hijackers.
There were 2,974 people killed, not including the 19 hijackers. The death toll on the 4 planes was 246 and 2603 in New York City. At the Pentagon 125 were killed. There are 24 people still missing.
Some were killed instantly when the planes hit the towers but some were trapped and burned to death. At least 200 people jumped from the Towers and died. There were 341 firemen, 2 paramedics and 23 policemen were killed. Many more were injured (around 6291) or suffered long term lung damage from the smoke created by the collapsing buildings.
Who was responsible?
The terrorist group Al Qaeda was thought to be responsible. The Leader is Osama bin Laden.
This group was formed in 1979 when Russia invaded Afghanistan. Initially the Americans helped the Arabs fight the Russians. As the Russians withdrew Al Qaeda was formed. They became more extreme and in 1996 Bin Laden called for American soldiers to get out of Saudi Arabia. In 1998 he ordered his followers to kill Americans anywhere.
The 9/11 plot was created by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, encouraged and financed by Bin Laden. The Leader of the hijackers Mohammed Atta who was on the plane that crashed into the North Tower on purpose.
Both of the 110 floor Twin Towers collapsed. On a normal working day up to 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Centre. Five of the surrounding trade centre buildings were destroyed along with the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox church. Other buildings like the Deutsche Bank building were later condemned because of Toxic fumes.
It was thought that about 16000 people were below the level of the plane crashes at the time of the attack and most of them managed to escape before the buildings collapsed.
The New York Fire department to the site, helped by numerous off duty offices. Police helicopters and ambulances also attended the scene. A few wounded people were found at the start but bodies were being removed for weeks. Fires burned for several weeks and there was smoke for 99 days. The rubble was not cleared until May 2002 .
Long term effects
As the plane crashed it had destroyed the lower Manhattan financial area, cutting electricity and phone lines, the New York stock exchange closed from 11th-17th September. Millions were lost. New buildings have to be erected to replace those damaged, which will cost even more money.
The fumes from the burning building contained asbestos, lead and mercury. Many of the rescue workers have serious lung disease and the possibility of cancer in the future. Pregnant women may have been at risk and their children are being monitored. The trauma of the event and rescue operation has left psychological damage.
I visited New York with my family last summer. The area where the Twin Towers were is now called ground Zero. This is still surrounded by fencing and workmen are preparing foundations. A cross has been made from girders from the wreckage and is erected as a memorial.
A more formal memorial is planned. A little church behind the Twin Towers was by some miracle survived and was used by the rescue workers as a place of refuge to rest, eat and pray. It has become a museum to the attack and attracts many tourists who visit the site.
American security has tightened. At the airports they are very strict about luggage and transporting liquids. On entry to the country each person is finger printed and a photograph taken of their iris. Visiting famous landmarks, for example the statue of liberty, have to be planned ahead as ticket holders have to be vetted weeks in advance in case the bare a security threat.
Fears for the future
This is not the first time the Twin Towers have been attacked. In 1993 Ramzi Yosef used a truck bomb to bomb the foundation of one of the towers which caused the towers to shake but only killed 6 people. Other attacks such as the 7/7 Central London bombing and the Glasgow airport bombing last year show that the Al-Qaeda group is still a real threat.
Information from St. Patrick’s museum New York.