with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Terror by the Numbers – Days After September 11, 2001

The numbers assaulted my brain all week. They come from everywhere. Television, radio, newspapers, they all bombard my head with numbers, many too unreal to accept. I want to reject them, but they are too staggering to deny. The numbers come from friends and family around me and around the world, too. I am surrounded.

The first shocking numbers came from the television reporting more than 50,000 people working in the Trade Center on any one day. Add to this 100,000 more or less who visit it as tourists every day. Who was in there, who was not, and who made it out in time? The numbers start to dance around in between all these big numbers. The first real numbers to appear are the numbers on board the four airplanes. In what seems like no time at all, names are attached to those numbers but they come with more numbers. Ages scroll across the screen and strike deep into your value system. This person was over 60, they had a full life. That’s okay. But this person, not even 21, they had so much life to live. And this person, age 40, they must have had a family, parents still alive, children, a spouse, in the prime of their life…gone. All gone because a few people decided that this was the way to bring attention to their issue. Why didn’t they take out a full page ad in the New York Times?

Then comes the shocking total of over 300 police and fire fighters unaccounted for. They represent human beings who dedicate their lives to saving others, heros who keep going back inside burning buildings to save one more life, heros who catch the bad guys and make the streets safe to walk down, and heros who climb trees and rescue kittens who will eventually figure out how to get down. I’m sure that many non-official members of the dead in the rumble were also heros in many respects, letting others go down the stairs before them, pulling others off telephones and away from their desks, urging them to safety, and even protecting others from the falling debris as the building collapsed down upon itself with no hope of recovery for anyone. These people’s story will come later, as their numbers are heard, so for now, we grieve greatly for those who we know are the heros, the more than 300 who rushed into the building without a thought to their own lives.

Time lines reveal more numbers across the television screens around the world. At 8:45 AM EST the first plane hits the first tower. At 9:03, the second plane slams into the second tower. By 9:17, the Federal Aviation Administration shuts down all the airports in the area. The announcement comes at 9:21 to close all the bridges and tunnels in New York. Bush announces that America has been hit by a terrorist attack at 9:30 and 10 minutes later the US airspace is closed and planes are ordered out of the sky. Within minutes the dots that fill the computer screens of military and domestic flight controllers blink out as the planes land everywhere and anywhere, with many rerouted to Canada and Mexico.

Israel’s front page news about September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks

Mariv Newspaper in Israel
Ma’ariv (Evening Prayer)
“American burns: More than 10,000 killed in biggest terrorist attack in history”
Yidiot Akhronot Newspaper in Israel
Yidiot Akhronot Newspaper (Lastest Reports)
“World in Shock: The biggest nightmare is reality in the US”
Yidiot Akhronot Newspaper in Israel, inside cover page
Yidiot Akhronot, Inside Cover
“Like a Tower of Cards”
Yidiot Akhronot Newspaper in Israel, inside spread
Yidiot Akhronot, Inside Spread
“The Blazing Tower”

We find out later that at 9:30 US fighter jets took off from Langley, Virginia, to confront Flight 77 heading towards Washington, DC, and flying at supersonic speeds, they missed the plane by 2 minutes, arriving in time to see the end result of its 9:43 crash into the Pentagon. At 9:45 the White House and surrounding government offices were evacuated. Millions of televisions around the world are turned on and turned up to watch the devastation as word circulates and phones ring with the news. Many turn them on in time, 10:05 AM, to watch the south tower of the World Trade Center collapse to the ground with live footage of people running for their lives from the huge cloud of boiling dust and debris. Only 5 minutes later part of the Pentagon collapses in the burning rage of the plane crash. Seconds later comes the report that another plane, maybe or not related, has crashed in Pennsylvania. We find out that Flight 93 was indeed hijacked, and much later we find out that the passengers attacked the hijackers, which probably resulted in the plane being brought down, possibly saving thousands more on the ground.

New York and Washington, DC, are not so much in panic as they are in escape mode and shock as the cities reel from the devastation. Television channels across the world fight to connect to any visual or audio feed they can get coming from the area as billions now watch in horror. When the north tower collapses at 10:28, the world is numb from the shock. Israel, a long time victim of much of the terrorism in the world, takes no chances and closes its embassies and diplomatic missions by 10:54 AM. The US makes the same announcement a few minutes later.

Action is now happening so fast, it is hard to keep track. By 11:18 there is confirmation from the airlines about the airplanes, and the certainty of terrorist hijacking grows. By 2:30 PM, the FAA announces that all air traffic will be grounded until at least noon the next day. By four in the afternoon New York time, the human toll begins to be reported. Giuliani reports that while the numbers are hazy, the number of critically injured in New York City is up to 200 with 2,100 total injuries reported. The number of missing grows every minute. By 5:20 PM, as practically everyone in the world is glued to a television or radio, Building 7 of the World Trade Center, severely damaged by the falls of the twin towers, collapses, sending more debris and dust across the ruins and into the New York evening sky. The buildings around the Trade Center continue to burn, as does the Pentagon.

While the World Trade Center garners the most media attention, the number coming out of the ruins of the Pentagon bring chills to the spine. A six-sided building with more than 17 miles of corridor. Originally constructed after World War I, the Pentagon has since undergone extensive reconstruction, which fortified the building into its separate pieces. The far-thinking architect’s design of buildings within buildings for security and protection is credited with saving most of the Pentagon from destruction in the devastating fire that burned for days. Unfortunately, the numbers of casualties begins at 100 and flares up to 800, dancing in and out between those numbers before it finally pendulums down to around 190.

The number of terrorists comes and goes from highs of 50 but then settles down to about 18 hijackers directly involved. Numbers representing arrests and inquiries arrive quickly: 10, 20, now 50. Then it drops as people are let go and rumors put to rest as the panic subsides. The numbers of tips to the FBI begins to grow, hundreds, then thousands, eventually growing to tens of thousands as the week progresses. Then comes the report of five survivors found in the ruble. The world rejoices. Hope is renewed. Hours later we find out that the five were rescue workers who fell into a part of the collapsed ruin, and word comes that the rescue workers are dropping like flies as they suffer massive injuries and respiratory distress as they work passionately to find survivors amidst the twisted ruin, smoke and dust of what remains of 220 stories of buildings and their surrounding partners.

Within less than 24 hours, the last of the survivors are found in the ruin, most of them injured by the falling buildings rather than from within the buildings. Since then, hope is fading. Two of those pulled from the devastation were Israeli citizens, a father and daughter playing tourist in New York to get away from the stress of terror in Israel. They spent 20 hours trapped in a car next to the site. At least 20 Israelis were eventually found at surrounding hospitals suffering from a wide range of injuries, but none appear to be life threatening. One Israeli from Ashdod, a young woman in her twenties, was aboard Flight 175, the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center. Aboard the first plane into the Trade Center was the vice president of a telecommunications company owned by US and Israeli citizens.

As the days go on, every morning we are greeted with more numbers. The Twin Towers weren’t the only buildings lost in the devastation. With the danger of further collapse, massive reconstruction and possibly demolition of other surrounding buildings is being considered. Thousands and thousands of people rush to blood banks and hospitals to share their precious plasma with the anticipated thousands upon thousands who may be pulled from the ruble. More thousands from all across the United States and the world race to New York with buckets and strong backs to help in the search and rescue. As the path to the destruction is clearly defined through the closed city, thousands of city citizens line the streets cheering on the workers as they parade to and from the ruined heart of the city.

Here in Israel, thousands flock to places of prayer and seek out crowds to share their shock and grief ini public places. Many line up at blood banks around the country to donate blood in anticipation of sharing it with the United States. Israel volunteers their terrorist experts as well as their search and rescue efforts. As many rescue workers are on route to the United States, word comes that says “thanks but no thanks” as hope fades of any chance of survivors, and New York can barely keep up with the flood of helpers within its own boundaries.

As the pendulum slows its swing over the days, the numbers begin to come down and steady. Now it is bouncing slightly below 6000 dead at the World Trade Center. After days of hearing the larger numbers in the tens of thousands, our minds feel relief that is it only 6000. Yet the number staggers us all the same. Now the funerals begin. Days of mourning are declared across the United States and the rest of the world. All of Europe calls for three minutes of silence in honor of the tragedy. Religious ceremonies take place in all the major countries of the world, recognizing not only the thousands lost in the horror of September 11, 2001, but honoring those from their countries who were lost in the World Trade Center as well as victims of terrorism across the world.

While Americans mourn their 6000 plus dead fellow Americans, more numbers come out that reflect the truly global impact of this act. In the early days Britain announces that at least 100 but maybe as many as “tens of hundreds” of British citizens may be among the “missing” in New York. German announces 700, Israel estimates 1000 but believes it will finally be closer to 400, though new reports put that number at about 130. Japan, Australia, and Mexico are reporting dozens confirmed dead in the airplanes and buildings, saying the missing could rise to the low hundreds. By the end of the week the numbers become more realistic but still changing as the information becomes more clear. The Netherlands report confirmed estimates over 400, Pakistan 200, India 250, Britain 300, Italy 38, Russia 96, Poland 30, and numbers pour in from South America and all over Asia with reports of 40 from China, 25 from Korea. The numbers grow and shrink as confirmation comes.

Stores across Europe and the Middle East, among many others in the world, sell out of American flags and candles as people of all nationalities pay tribute.

As the week progressed, the world stood up and started being counted, too. It was a simple count. Stand with or without the United States against terrorism. France, Britain, Germany, Israel, Spain, the names of the countries of those standing with the United States kept growing.

But there is confusion in a few places, especially close to home for us. While a few minutes of film footage got out to the news networks of Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of the attack on the United States, Arafat was one of the first to claim his place alongside the United States against terrorism. Palestinian PR officials raced to news reporters to make it clear that the idiocy of a few did not reflect upon the whole, and that these dancing and celebrating people didn’t understand the extend of the attack when they started celebrating. Yet, the reality is that most of the Arab world did celebrate, many loudly and gloriously, at American “getting some”. A week later, newspapers here told of Arafat screaming at his officials to seize and censor all the film footage of Palestinians continuing to celebrate and to pull people off the streets, even threatening to arrest them if they kept up their celebrations. Arafat’s PR machine went so far as to order the round up former rock-throwing children to participate in a candle light vigil to show honor and support and repair the political damage done by the “few party-goers”. The political “face” was kept up as Arafat was shown donating blood and calling for himself to lead an Arab coalition against terrorism. I was very pleased when the broadcasts of Arafat’s announcement were met with scepticism by the reporters. They reminded their audience that Arafat was one of the most wanted terrorists in the world for his participation in the Munich Olympics terror and murders, and many other terrorist acts as part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, two of the many active terrorist groups from Palestine. Arafat is still under indictment by the Hague for war-crimes and terrorism. Brent and I admit that while anyone in the United States could become President, is it any less likely that just about any terrorist in the world could become head of a country. Why not? Equal opportunities, right? A small moment of lightness in a week of darkness.

As the numbers continue to roll into my head, the costs begin to add up. Billions of dollars are approved within hours of the terrorist event by the US government to support New York and Washington, DC, aid search, rescue, and repair, including money to support the upcoming fight to snuff out terrorism. Insurance companies come forward with more numbers, billions and billions, trying to account for the damage and loss of property and life. As the week progresses, news of job cuts from the expected recoil of US industries adds fuel to the fire that the US economy is toileting. The air industry announces predictions of 48,000 jobs lost, Boeing announces 30,000 job cuts, computer companies, high tech firms, travel companies, investment firms, businesses across the US and around the world announce layoffs and job cuts. Downsizing will soon have a new meaning.

As I look at all the numbers, I wonder what the real final numbers will be when this is all over. How many more will die in the name of some unjust cause brought to the world stage? How many will die and suffer in retaliation called “fighting back against terrorism”? Let us not forget that terrorism was born in the Middle East in retaliation for the sadistic acts of the Europeans against the Arabs during the Crusades. What really is the difference between one huge group of thousands of foreigners coming into land that is not theirs and killing and destroying those in their way, whether they need to or not, and a small group of foreigners going into another country or area to kill and destroy in an attempt to make a point and cause havoc? I know the world has to come to terms with their definitions of “terrorist” and “freedom fighter”.

But the number I want to know most of all is the number that represents “when”. When will this be over? When will the world live among its own borders and declare it “enough”? When will people respect the value of every life and not just their way of life? When is this over?

Tel Aviv, Israel

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