\
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Description of hell


911 calls: Final words

More sad and harrowing details about 9/11 were revealed in 2,000 pages of transcripts released to the public last week. They include 260 hours of calls made to emergency operators from people trapped inside the World Trade Center minutes after terrorists flew two hijacked airliners into the towers and killed 2,800 people. Reading the transcripts may break your heart, but it will surely fortify your resolve for a war against terrorism.

The sheer horror and empathy for desperate victims first make us flinch and want to stop reading. But perhaps we Americans need to be reminded of the ruthless, demented nature of modern terrorism and of the deadliest terror attack on American soil in U.S. history.

One police officer said what he saw that day resembled the biblical description of hell.

Here's one exchange between a male and female caller.

Man: "I've got dozens of bodies, people just jumping from the top of the building onto...in front of 1 World Trade."

Female operator: "Sir, you have what jumping from the buildings?"

Man: "People. Bodies are just coming from out of the sky....up top of the building."

The transcripts describe an almost biblical array of plagues: flooding in the underground shopping area, smoke everywhere, people fainting, stuck elevators, jet fuel streaming down windows.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which owned and patrolled the office complex, released the transcripts at a judge's order based on a request by The New York Times. The audio tapes were not released.

They come two weeks before the second anniversary of the attack and the same week a radical Islamic sect promoted an upcoming event in London to salute the 19 hijackers who attacked the U.S. as "The Magnificent 19."

However, what mustn't get lost in the fixation on horror are the transcripts' reminder, again, of the heroic work of ordinary firemen, police officers and other workers that day. They operated courageously, in chaos and sometimes wrenching helplessness. Many of them died trying to overcome evil with good. That legacy is the only redeeming message in these transcripts.




EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINES
Description of hell
United front
An Episcopalian vs. his church