Evacuation plan became useless with power out WORLD TRADE CENTER EXPLOSION

February 27, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Evacuation plans for the World Trade Center were rendered useless yesterday because the explosion devastated its police command and operations centers, Port Authority officials said.

As a result, tens of thousands of office workers were left to fend for themselves in a terrifying confusion as they groped their way with no organized leadership down as many as 100 flights of stairs in darkness and thick smoke.

Charles Maikish, the director of the World Trade Center, said that the center had an elaborate evacuation plan but that it was "destroyed" by the blast.

Not only did the explosion severely damage the police desk and flood it and the operations center with choking smoke, but it knocked out their electricity, telephones, public-address system and closed-circuit television monitors.

Mr. Maikish said that a set of emergency generators that could have powered the building's emergency systems was also knocked out when the blast severed lines that carry water used to cool the generators.

Sal Samperi, the deputy director of the Port Authority police, said, "Our initial control desk was an officer with a walkie-talkie."

As described by Mr. Maikish, the public-address system and other components of the communications system are the linchpins of an evacuation plan that he said was practiced two or three times a year.

It involves directing a network of fire safety marshals on every floor of each tower to the safest stairways, based on information received in large part through the television monitors.

Stephen R. Berger, the former director of the Port Authority, said that the bistate agency, which runs the buildings, had commissioned studies on terrorist attacks in anticipation of the centennial celebrations for the Statue of Liberty in 1986.

He said the studies concluded that the World Trade Center could withstand a car bombing in an underground garage.

"They said you could sustain a car bomb," he said. "What they didn't tell us was you couldn't sustain it if it was perfectly placed."

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