Sunday, May 01, 2005

102 Minutes: A Hellish Journey

I often make the remark (I'm sure it didn't originate with me) that 9/11 is the most documented event in human history. I don't really think there's a close second. Still, as nightmarish as the images are (and I have dreamed about them - someday, perhaps, in another post, I'll get into that), we have a very sanitized collection of film, for the most part. The great documentary by the French brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet intentionally turned the camera away when presented with burning bodies coming out of the elevators, nor did the cameras record the mangled remains of the dozens of people who jumped from windows of the towers when the heat became too much to bear.

Enter 102 Minutes, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. By focusing solely on the events at Ground Zero, Dwyer and Flynn present a harrowing tale of what was going on inside the towers between the impact of the jets and the unthinkable collapse of the buildings. From the story as told here, we can surmise that perhaps 500 people in the towers died mercifully instantly from the impact; another 2,400 or so had horrible, horrible deaths indeed, slowly suffocating, burning to death, or leaping to their dooms to avoid the the flames and smoke.

Of the people above the impact zones of the two airplanes, a mere 18, all from the South Tower, made it out alive. There are tales of heroism here, such as the two civilian men who saved dozens by looking for and freeing those who were trapped (they didn't make it out themselves), and there are tales of grief (the last phone calls from people who know they are about to die, the man in the wheelchair and his friend who stayed with him on the 27th floor - they didn't make it, either), and there are tales of incompetence (the fireproofing was untested and woefully inadequate, and there was nearly no communication between the police and fire departments).

After reading this tale, several thoughts stayed with me. If the towers had stood, they would have had to tear them down, it seems to me, as the safety features were clearly not adequate; for the same reason, those who wanted the towers rebuilt were misguided. The other thought is how difficult it will be to find tenants for the towers' replacement(s). A great book about a horrible, horrible day - highly recommended.

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