In a staggering series of apparent terrorist attacks, two hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York today, collapsing both 110-story buildings, and a third aircraft plowed into the Pentagon across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
Soon afterward, a car bomb went off outside the State Department. Two United Airlines jets reportedly also crashed ? one outside Pittsburgh and another on a route to Los Angeles, though details were scarce at late morning. The White House, the Congress and all federal government buildings were evacuated.
The devastating blow to America from unidentified sources was reminiscent of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago.
It was impossible to know how many were killed in the crash and collapse of the two skyscrapers in New York. But with as many as 50,000 working in the two buildings, the death toll could easily surpass the 1,178 killed in the surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or the 167 killed in a bomb attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City.
The first jetliner crashed into one of the towers about 8 a.m. CDT, starting a fire. As a horrified nation watched the fire on television 18 minutes later, a second jetliner appeared in the sky, slamming into the other tower in a crash of fire and smoke.
One was an American Airlines flight, apparently hijacked soon after it took off from Boston en route to Los Angeles.
Subsequent explosions collapsed both towers minutes later.
President Bush cut short a trip to Florida, canceled plans to return to Washington and was flown aboard Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana where he was to convene an emergency session of his National Security Council.
"This is a difficult moment for America. Today, we've had a national tragedy," Bush said at the outset of what was supposed to be an event in Sarasota, Fla., pitching his education proposals.
"I've ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act. Terrorism against our nation will not stand."
Quickly, a national sense of siege spread as the Federal Aviation Administration ordered every flight in the United States grounded. The Securities and Exchange Commission ordered all financial markets closed. High profile buildings like the United Nations in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago were evacuated.
At the Capitol, reports that another hijacked plane was heading toward Washington added to sense of war.
"These were not just crimes against the United States, they are acts of war," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz."We will prevail in this war, as we have prevailed in the past. May God bless us in this trial, defend us, and make our justice swift and sure."
Standing in a park near the evacuated Capitol, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "This is our second Pearl Harbor, right here in the nation's capital.
"This story has been written in fiction and now it's before us as reality. Our lifestyle will never be the same again. We'll need to re-strike the balance between the exercise of our freedoms and security pressures to protect this nation," Warner said.
Capitol police told Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., there was a hijacked plane 20 minutes away from D.C. and that everyone must leave.
A group of four tourists from San Antonio, two couples, were enjoying their first trip to the nation's capital when they were evacuated from the Congress.
"We need to pray for those people," said Dorothy Drumm, 52, from San Antonio. The four of them stood in a circle and prayed before the east front of the Capitol.
Police officers inside the Capitol yelled at them to "get out. Run. Be careful but run," said Gary Stewart, 49, from San Antonio.
Throughout Washington, apprehensive employees evacuated from government buildings joined confused tourists on crowded sidewalks.
At the White House, tourist Keith Daniels, 42, of Orange County, Calif., heard the explosion from the Pentagon, then the sound of employees running from the White House. "Everyone started screaming and running out," said Daniels. "Everyone started screaming, 'it's a national emergency, everyone get out."'
Along busy 14th Street near the Commerce Department, day care workers hurriedly rolled cribs with three children in each, some still sleep.