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Updated Lower Manhattan is shrouded in soot and covered in ash and debris. What appears to be an uncontrolled gas fire at the site of the World Trade Center collapse is compounding the tragedy, making it extremely difficult for emergency service and rescue workers to reach injured survivors in the immediate area.

What remains of the twin towers is a colossal pile of earth and glass and twisted metal and wrecked cars. Many thousands of bodies will undoubtedly be dug from it in the coming days.

A forty-seven-storey building in the World Trade Center complex, number seven, collapsed Tuesday evening from damage caused not by the attack, but by the collapse of the towers nearby. Thankfully it had been evacuated.

A steady parade of stunned New Yorkers walked grimly north, out of the affected area, their hair, skin and clothes covered in coarse gray ash similar to what one associates with a volcanic eruption.

There has been little or no panic. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has been on the scene, and reports that people's behavior is "better than anybody had any right to expect."

Approximately one thousand rescue workers have themselves been injured, and over fifty area hospitals are currently taking on the burden of treating survivors. The services of a hundred hospitals may be required by day's end, Giuliani reckoned. Patients are being treated for shock, broken limbs and lacerations.

The injured are being distributed as well as can be accomplished, with the Staten Island Ferry pressed into service as a hospital transport for victims who can be safely moved to hospitals in Staten Island and New Jersey.

New York police and emergency medical workers, no strangers to grim sights, have been seen openly sobbing in the streets, overwhelmed by the tragedy they've witnessed.

The World Trade Center towers hosted a good deal of local wireless telecommunications gear. Since the collapse, communications have been spotty. The Manhattan subway is shut, but service is available in the other four boroughs.

The towers were destroyed by two of four passenger aircraft hijacked Tuesday morning: two from American Airlines, flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles and flight 77 From Washington, DC to Los Angeles; and two from United Airlines, flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles and flight 93 from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco. The flights were likely chosen because they were long-haul and would contain nearly full fuel tanks on arrival in New York and Washington, DC.

The destroyed planes alone account for 266 souls lost.

The Pentagon building in Washington was also struck by a hijacked plane, but the damage has been confined to a relatively small section. Scores of victims have been admitted to area hospitals, and there are reports of approximately one hundred deaths during the attack.

Nearly all federal buildings have been evacuated as a precaution against subsequent attacks. The mood in Washington is both quiet and vaguely tense.

The DC National Guard has had great difficulty getting itself organized, and has asked the media to put the word out in hopes that more members will report to the DC Armory. Area hospitals have reported a blood shortage and are asking residents to donate blood if possible.

And you thought the nation's capital, of all US cities, would be prepared for such difficulties. One can only be thankful that we haven't had to cope with a fraction of what New York is experiencing. ®

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