We're Under Attack

Near misses, dead phones, last words: an oral history of 9/11 by Giuliani and his aides

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On the morning of Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani is having breakfast at the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue in midtown with an aide, Dennison Young Jr., and his friend Bill Simon, a businessman who is running for Governor of California. Just as breakfast ends, Young gets a phone call. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.

RUDY GIULIANI: My first thought is sort of a rejection: How could this happen? Airplanes don't hit the World Trade Center. What are we talking about? [Racing through Greenwich Village on the way to the scene, the mayor's Chevrolet Suburban passes by St. Vincent's Hospital.] I see on the street half a dozen stretchers and doctors and nurses in operating gowns. It registers that they must know something--that this is really bad. That's when the second plane hits.

BERNARD KERIK, police commissioner, who is already at the Trade Center: The explosion is enormous. I'm thinking, "Jesus Christ, we're under attack." There's a black man in the middle of the street. He has a vending pushcart. When he sees the people jumping, he completely loses it. He runs toward me to grab me. I have to get somebody to drag him away from me. I can't think with him screaming in my ear. This is minutes before the mayor arrives.

Giuliani pulls up near his state-of-the-art command center at 7 World Trade Center. But the $13 million bunker--in the shadow of the Twin Towers--is being evacuated. (Later that day, it will collapse.) The mayor looks for his top commissioners, and they begin a long and harrowing search for a place to set up a new base of operations.

GIULIANI: I want to get through to the White House to reiterate that we need air cover. Have we closed down bridges and tunnels?

KERIK: I shout to one of my guys, "You gotta shut down the airspace!" And I'm the police commissioner. I'm not the general of the Army. I don't have F-16s. I'm yelling, "Shut down the airspace! Call...somebody--whoever does that. Is there a number for that?"

The group walks three blocks to the fire department's temporary command post on West Street in front of the American Express building.

GIULIANI: When I make the turn south on West Street, I get the first real view of the building and see that, no matter how it was described, it's much worse. The top of the building is totally in flames. I look up, and for some reason my eye catches the top of the [north tower of the] World Trade Center, and I see a man jump--it must have been at least 100 stories up.

KERIK: When you first get there, and you're looking at people jump from the buildings, there's this helpless feeling. You can't imagine what it's like. [The mayor's] looking at this. And then he just kicks into overdrive from there on.

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