Terrorist bomb kills six and injures hundreds at the World Trade Center in 1993

New York Daily News (Photos are available at the link — the Daily News does not permit copying of photos)

A massive terrorist bomb ripped apart a World Trade Center garage where the Secret Service parks its cars yesterday and spread a fearsome carpet of death, injury and chaos across the heart of the nation’s financial center.

At least nine people, including several who condemned U.S. involvement in Bosnia, telephoned police to claim responsibility for the shattering explosion, which killed at least five people, injured hundreds more and set off smoky fires that filled the city’s tallest buildings with black fumes and sent thousands gasping into the streets.

Thousands more were trapped for several panicky hours in stalled elevators, darkened hallways and smoke-choked stairways as legions of emergency personnel rushed to cope with one of the worst terrorist acts in the city’s history.

Airlift retaliation?

Though it is unknown which of the warring factions in the former Republic of Yugoslavia might be responsible, federal terrorism experts speculated the bomb was a reaction to President Clinton’s decision to airlift food and medicine to starving people half a world away.

Without warning and with shocking force, the bomb went off just after noon two floors below the Vista Hotel on the west side of the Trade Center, a complex of six buildings that is one of the city’s crown jewels.

With fiendish effectiveness, the blast devastated the centers, knocking out electrical, communications and ventilation systems and rendering evacuation plans useless.

The bomb was believed to have been left in a car parked near where the Secret Service stores 100 federal vehicles, including a limousine for dignitaries that police sources said, but federal officials denied, would be used by President Clinton.

Residue from a type of plastic explosive commonly used in terror bombings was found near the scene. But officials said it may take days to determine the size and type of bomb because of debris at the site.

Warns of more attacks

Several of the country’s most important businesses and law firms, as well as several federal and state government offices, are housed in the center. Last week, Gov. Cuomo had been in the garage, near where the bomb detonated, damaging dozens of cars as far as 700 feet away.

The first person to claim responsibility telephoned police about 75 minutes after the horrific explosion and warned of further attacks unless the United Nations and the U.S. ceased relief efforts in Bosnia.

The explosion was so powerful that it tore a 180-foot wide crater through four levels of the subterranean transportation, food and mechanical complex that stretches beneath the center’s two 110 story towers.

Beginning on the second level, it tore away pillars, ripped out guardrails, crumpled ramps, buckled walls and drove twisted hunks of metal piping and tons of debris down the center of the crater through three lower floors separated by 28-inch-thick ceilings of concrete and steel.

Most of the dead were found crushed under rubble. City Emergency Medical Service officials said as many as seven people may have died, two more than the medical examiner’s office could account for in the confusion of the heart-pounding drama.

The medical examiner’s office did not expect to identify any of the victims until today, partly because they died of horrible injuries. Police and fire sources speculated that some may have been Port Authority workers or garage attendants.

Fears for co-workers

“The ceiling just feel on my head,” said Eugene Raggio, [Note: Eugene Raggio was killed in the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center] a Port Authority maintenance man afraid that four of his coworkers, who were eating lunch, were among the dead. “It was sudden total darkness.”

“I’ve been on the job 20 years, and an Emergency Service cop for 17, and I have never seen an explosion like this one,” said Police Officer Billy Pieszak. “The cars down there are bent around like little toys.”

Rescuers feared that more victims may be the bottom of the crater and planned to work through the night. Officials also planned to work through the weekend to excavate debris from the crater and examine the center for structural damage.

They hoped that most of the Trade Center, one of the engines that drives the nations economy, would be able to open Monday.

Like a nuke bomb

The explosion kayoed PATH service two levels below and brought Manhattan south of Canal St. to a virtual standstill. Police also closed the Battery and Holland tunnels to all but the hundreds of fire trucks and ambulances that made up the largest emergency response in city history.

“It was like an atomic bomb went off,” said Jimmy Smith, a fireman from Rescue 1 as some of the injured underwent medical treatment nearby.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said 476 people were taken to hospitals and another 176, many covered with soot were treated for smoke inhalation. Some 50 people who traipsed through an area laden with cancer-causing asbestos dust were decontaminated.

The injured included three Secret Service employes, 44 firefighters, 11 cops and one ambulance worker.

Late in the evening, several people remained trapped on one of the tower’s upper floors. Earlier, six people, including a pregnant woman, were snatched off the roof of the 1,710-foot-high building by a police helicopter.

All through the snowy afternoon, workers spilled out of the center with harrowing stories of survival.

Everything went black; it felt like a tomb,” said Fred Ferby, one of several maintenance workers trapped below the explosion. “I was terrified.”

130,000 people daily

The workers scrambled to safety via PATH tracks, only to be confronted by equally frightful scenes throughout the center, which draws 50,000 workers and 80,000 visitors on a normal day.

“I was looking for a container for some food and then all the world came down on my body,” said Victor Castillo, a food-service worker on the first basement level and one of the terrible day’s many heroes.

Unable to see, Castillo found a flashlight in the debris of his restaurant and led five co-workers to safety.

As with the building’s other systems, the bomb knocked out three emergency generators used for ventilation, causing smoke to reach as high as the 90th floor.

Under the law authorizing construction of the center in 1962, its safety features were determined by its owner, the Port Authority, not the city. Officials said the bomb packed such a punch that more sophisticated systems would not have made a difference.

People coped with the resulting chaos as best they could.

Saved by ear

Two cops, Detective Eddie Joergens and Emergency Medical Service Officer Cory Cuneo, entered the crumbled garage area and in the darkness followed a man’s screams until they found Tim Lang of Sea Bright, N.J., trapped between two of the 50 mangled cars littering the scene.

“We told him to keep shouting because we couldn’t see anything,” said Cuneo.

Elsewhere in the complex, dozens of people – some bleeding from shards of flying glass, others hacking from the smoke – remained trapped in elevators and hallways.

Office worker Allen Walker had just gotten on an elevator in the center’s north tower when “part of the elevator door just burst in on us. And then we were in complete darkness.”

Walker and several others in the elevator used shoes to pry the door open to let in air until rescue workers reached them. “I feel like I have a new lease on life,” he said, as he and thousands of other survivors traded horror stories on the snow-filled concourse between the towers.

‘A small earthquake’

“The building shook and the lights went out – we all thought it was a small earthquake, or a plane crashing into the building,” said Charlie DiSilvestri, a money broker on the 31st floor of 1 World Trade Center.

“We went out and walked down 31 flights of stairs – it took us 20 minutes because of all the people.”

“It felt like a big boom,” said Lisa Hoffman, who works at the nearby World Financial Center. “The building shook. I looked out the window to see if New Jersey had disappeared.”

Mayor Dinkins, who was in Japan on a business trip, learned of the explosion about 3:30 a.m. Tokyo time. He cut short his itinerary to monitor the situation by phone.

Cuomo, who spoke with Clinton late in the afternoon, said he and the President discussed early reports that the bomb was possibly the work of Serb terrorists angry at the humanitarian U.S. airlift.

“There are obvious questions that need to be answered,” added Cuomo, who will tour the site this morning, “What emergency devices were available? Did they work? Why were there no lights? Why were there no public announcements?”

In Washington, security was tightened around the Pentagon and other likely terrorism sites, officials said.

New York officials also were on higher alert and at one point, after an anonymous bomb threat, ordered the Empire State Building evacuated. No bomb was found.

Serbs in New York downplayed any connection to the troubles in Bosnia. “Any fool can pick up a telephone and claim anything,” said George Bogdanich, spokesman for SerbNet, a coalition of Serbian-American groups.

The first anonymous call about the bomb went to a police precinct, more than an hour after the blast. Kelly said eight other callers representing various groups called 911 later in the day to claim responsibility.

Whoever was responsible, after city and federal bomb experts examined the damage they said they did not doubt the explosion was caused by a bomb of unusual power.

“It was basically a see-and-smell analysis,” one expert said. “By the size of the crater and the order, we have determined it was a bomb.”

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