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Pentagon Reopens, Death Toll Uncertain
Sep 12 2001 12:41PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military's massive Pentagon headquarters,
ripped by a terrorist strike, reopened for limited business on Wednesday as
rescue teams pressed a perilous search for hundreds of missing defense
Smoke from the blackened concrete structure drifted over Washington and a
stubborn roof fire continued to burn more than 24 hours after a hijacked
fuel-laden airliner slammed into a corner of the five-sided building on
Firefighting officials said the dead and injured could total anywhere from
100 to 800 persons, including 66 aboard the aircraft. But Pentagon
spokeswoman Victoria Clarke cautioned that the "ballpark" 800 estimate could
be far too high.
"I have no confidence in the 800 figure," she told reporters. "The priority
today is to take care of the injured, to take care of the dead, and to take
care of their families."
The Defense Department said in a statement that the area where the aircraft
struck and burned sustained such catastrophic damage that "anyone who might
have survived the initial impact and collapse could not have survived the
fire that followed."
Rescue teams were preparing to use a large wrecking ball on the collapsed
section to clear away unstable rubble so that four special urban search and
rescue teams of about 60 specialists each could get access to damaged nearby
DANGER OF COLLAPSE
The hijacked American Airlines' jetliner's "black box" instrument package,
containing data on its flight path from nearby Dulles International Airport
on what was to be a flight by Los Angeles, was still buried in the unstable
"It's like a game of pick-up sticks," Chief Mike Tamillow of the First
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department told Reuters. "If you pull out the
wrong one they could all come crashing down. That's exactly what we're were
trying to prevent."
The Pentagon, the world's largest government building across the Potomac
River in Virginia, was evacuated after Tuesday morning's devastating strike,
but several thousand of the 23,000 military and civilian workers who
normally work at the Pentagon returned to the job on Wednesday.
Shortly before noon, with concern growing that the fire might spread further
in the wooden structure under the slate roof, many people began to leave the
building on what Pentagon officials called a "false alarm" that an order had
been given to evacuate. Those who had left quickly returned.
The attack coincided with other hijackings that toppled the twin towers of
the World Trade Center in New York City, where thousands are believed to
Nearly half of the 17 miles of Pentagon corridors remained shut for safety
reasons, however, and officials said many of the 23,000 military and
civilians who work there daily would not report on Wednesday because of
damage to a large wedge of the building.
"UP AND FUNCTIONING"
"The Pentagon is up and functioning," Clarke told a news conference. But
other officials said that a major portion of the building was shut down for
Arlington County, Virginia, Fire Chief Edward Plaugher, coordinating the
firefighting operation, told reporters that it would take "many, many days"
to search for possible survivors and recover the bodies of the dead.
Officials said it was important to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that
the military of the world's only superpower was seen unbowed by the
One section of the five-story building, built during World War Two and never
attacked during the decades of the Cold War, collapsed and burned.
A portable morgue and field hospital were set up on a highway next to the
Rescuers probed as far as they could but "obviously in the collapsed areas,
that will have to take place at a later time, after we have made the
building safe," Plaugher said.
The plane used in the attack was an American Airlines Boeing 757 that took
off from Washington's Dulles Airport bound for Los Angeles before it was
diverted. It carried 58 passengers, four flight attendants and two pilots.
U.S. forces worldwide were put on the highest alert -- force protection
condition Delta -- meaning extra guards, restrictions on personnel movement
and other precautions.
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited.
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