Blast rocks N.Y. towers Apparent bomb kills 7, injures nearly 600 at World Trade Center Hundreds trapped for hours by fire, smoke, darkness WORLD TRADE CENTER EXPLOSION

February 27, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- A huge bomb explosion rocked the World Trade Center yesterday, killing at least seven people, injuring more than 600 and plunging the world's second-tallest skyscrapers into an urban hell of falling rubble and thick black smoke.

Thousands of workers staggered down smoke-filled, pitch-black stairways from as high as 107 stories for hours after the explosion at 12:18 p.m., while six others -- including a pregnant woman -- were plucked from the roof by a police helicopter.

"There was fire all around us -- it was like the 'Night of the Living Dead,' " said Bill Demic, a firefighter who was one of the first to respond. "We didn't think we would see anything alive."

Thousands more were trapped and waited hours to be led from the smoke-filled floors to safety. Power to the elevators was cut off by Con Edison, officials said.

FBI sources said that between 500 and 1,000 pounds of plastic explosive -- believed to be C-4, a putty-like substance considered the most powerful non-nuclear explosive, was packed into a van parked in the garage under the Vista Hotel and Trade Center towers. Two smaller bombs were believed to have been placed near the garage door and against a wall adjacent to the PATH station.

The main explosion created a 100-by-200-foot crater that caused concrete and debris to crumble through five floors below, law enforcement sources said. The smaller simultaneous explosions twisted the heavy metal garage doors and caused a ceiling to collapse in the PATH station.

New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo said the main blast at the World Trade Center was the result of a bomb. "The information I have is it was definitely a bomb," said Governor Cuomo, who called in to the Cable News Network show, "Larry King Live."

But the investigation was hampered by concerns over the presence of hazardous asbestos, security sources said. "There is a huge asbestos problem . . . which prevents people from going in," an official said.

Special hazardous disposal experts were flown in from as far away as Chicago to help deal with the cancer-causing fibers that may have been sent into the air by the blast.

The official word from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly last night was that "we have not determined the origin of the explosion." But sources said the explosions were caused by bombs, and said law-enforcement authorities were investigating whether a Serbian group protesting the planned U.N. airdrop of food to war-torn Bosnia was responsible.

Commissioner Kelly said that seven callers -- six who dialed 911 and one who called the 1st Precinct station house -- claimed responsibility after the explosion

However, sources said at least one phone call warning about the bombing came to the Fire Department 15 minutes before the blast. A tape of that call is being analyzed by the FBI, sources said.

Later in the afternoon a caller to 911 claimed that a bomb explosion was imminent at the Empire State Building, the city's next-tallest structure, and thousands of workers there were evacuated without incident.

The massive parking garage explosion was a "directed blast," sources said, meaning that the force was concentrated in one direction -- down. It blew the crater and a hole in the floor below, filling three more floors with smashed concrete, blazing cars and exploding tires and was where rescue workers found the dead. Most of the Secret Service's local fleet of cars, including a backup limousine used for presidential visits, was destroyed. The explosion also blew open the underground vaults of the Bank of Kuwait.

Police dogs and rescue crews -- some tethered to a 400-foot-long rope -- were combing through twisted metal in total darkness to search for others who were feared missing.

The identities of the dead had not been released last night, although authorities said one was a woman and at least four may have been Port Authority workers. All seven were in an office adjacent to the parking garage, and one of the victims was pronounced dead at St. Vincent's Hospital.

Most of the injured were employees of businesses in the World Trade Center towers who had been overcome by smoke as it rose into the towers. Fire marshals are investigating why the smoke was able to drift up more than 50 floors and suspect that the explosions blew out backup generators to the ventilation system.

More than 400 people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and another 274 were hospitalized, officials said.

Above ground, thousands of office workers from the 110-story twin towers, where all power was knocked out by the explosion, staggered down dozens of flights of darkened stairs, covered in black soot and gasping for oxygen.

"It was the scariest moment of my . . . life," said stockbroker Jonathan Werz, 23, cursing, seconds after making his way by stairs from the 105th floor of One World Trade Center, which took nearly 90 minutes. "I just need air." His unbuttoned shirt and his face were covered in soot.

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