“My God. What these people went through. I just cannot imagine it.” — John Kirby, who had visited the World Trade Center as a 12-year-old during construction of Building Number 7 and made this comment when he was assisting in the rescue/recovery/cleanup of the demolished WTC site.
On this 12th anniversary of the fall of the World Trade Center, I remember the people that were lost, but also the buildings, and the icon that was the symbol of New York.
Personally, I found it incredible when a friend told me of her experience that day working in an outer building in the WTC complex. The thought of her and other workers casually walking from their building and leaving Manhattan, only to find out later exactly what had happened by watching it on television and learning that their building, too, had eventually collapsed, just amazed me.
City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center by James Glanz and Eric Lipton, is the chronicle of the buildings and the people who fought to make them happen, as well as the destruction years later of the famous landmark.
Brace yourself. This book is not for the faint of heart; but it is an important book because no matter what we already know about that day and how much time has passed, it reminds us of the stark terror that was 9/11. And as steel worker John Kirby said, it is unimaginable.
Part history, architecture, forensics—and just sheer physics—the book ties together all things World Trade Center: from its politically-charged, controversial start (the razing of the mostly retail electronics businesses of Radio City) through its construction, profitability, tenants and finally its untimely collapse. Just the details regarding the construction of such a tall (at that time a world record) structure fascinated me.
Danny Doyle, who had helped build the WTC some 30 years ago and was part of the site cleanup, cried out upon seeing a “distinct mound of debris set into the pile (of collapsed buildings), about six feet high, with strands of wire and pieces of rebar sticking out. It looked like layers of sediment that had turned into rock and been lifted up on some mountainside. From one to ten he counted the layers, before it began to dawn on him just what he was looking at: …here were ten stories of the south tower, compacted into an area of about six feet.”
Indeed, most of the recovery crew “never saw a desk, chair, telephone or file cabinet.” Or, as first responder and NY Deputy Fire Chief Charles Blaich said upon arriving at the scene of the collapse: “Where did everything go?”.
Unimaginable, too, are the factoids found throughout this book: the first jet which hit the north tower hit at approximately 460 mph, with the second hitting the south tower at 560 mph; when the top of the south tower hit the ground, it was moving at an estimated 120 mph; and another deduction: at one thousand degrees, steel has softened enough to lose half its original strength.
I could not stop reading this book. It is thorough, if not complete, and has put forth an astonishing array of information into a fairly reader-friendly book. Just prepare to be very sad—if not disturbed—for some of the book is … well, as steel worker Doyle put it regarding the recovery site: “Welcome to hell. This is ugly, ugly.”
On this September 11, may we all remember the gravity of this tragedy and the souls that were lost.