Trade center horror hits Queens residents hard

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Simon Koscinski of Ridgewood, covered in soot with a bandage on his forehead, sat in a doorway on Church Street shaking. He had a look of disbelief on his face as he tried to understand what he had just gone through and the carnage he had witnessed.

The young man in his 20s had survived and escaped the worst terrorist act to hit the United States. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center Tuesday morning, toppling the north tower and then the south tower and unleashing a thick cloud of dust over Lower Manhattan.

“I saw a wheel of the plane fall about 300 feet and smash on to a truck — the two guys inside were lucky to be alive,” said Koscinski, who was working on a construction job near the World Trade Center. “Everything happened so fast, it was like a wheel of fire.”

As the second tower disintegrated, he crawled under a car for protection from the falling glass and steel. Koscinski said he heard people screaming for friends and saw some body parts on the street when the smoke cleared.

“I thought the police would remove everyone to safety,” he said. “It was like a volcano. No one expected the top would go down, no one said you should move.”

As thousands of visibly shaken people raced through the streets of Lower Manhattan trying to get home, the shock of what they had experienced had not set in. Their first concern was alerting family members that they were safe.

But hours after the towers dissolved in fiery explosions, residents of Queens and other parts of the metropolitan area continued to wait for word about loved ones who had not been heard from since the first plane rammed into the Twin Towers at 8:48 a.m.

Casualty figures were still incomplete as of presstime late Tuesday night.

Douglaston resident Tom Walsh, coated in white soot that blanketed the area from the World Trade Center to Reade Street and from West Street to Broadway, was heading uptown to meet his pregnant wife.

He said it looked like people were “flying off” the World Trade Center. He described a man waving a towel as if asking for help before he leaped.

“I even saw two people jump in tandem,” Walsh said. “I could not tell if they were a husband and wife or co-workers. It was on about the 80th floor, it looked as if they drifted down slowly.”

People even tried to shimmy down between the girders on either side of the windows to no avail, he said.

Even though the throngs of people running to escape the carnage were screaming, crying and vomiting from the dust, which made skin burn and itch, Walsh said people helped each other move away from the danger.

“It was like a mushroom cloud, a fireball,” said Walsh, who watched the destruction of the Twin Towers. “After the first building collapsed, there was an eerie, eerie silence in Lower Manhattan. Everybody was in a trance and then the second building went down.”

Nine members of the Bayside Community Volunteer Ambulance Corp. in two trucks who joined the rescue efforts in Lower Manhattan Tuesday morning had ever seen anything like it.

“We were two blocks from the World Trade Center,” Jay McShane, 28, a 13-year veteran of BCVAC, said when he returned with his colleagues to the 42nd Avenue base at about 7 p.m. “There was about three inches of soot everywhere.”

He said he saw several bodies amid the debris.

Kathy Rest, a registered nurse who has been with BCVAC for six months, said much of their work was comforting bystanders who were not seriously injured but were in many cases traumatized.

She noticed one sight in particular at the scene: an American flag atop the remnants of the structure. “It was still flying,” she said.

Doctors and hospital workers were having difficulty reaching victims at the World Trade Center Tuesday evening because fires still were burning, people familiar with the rescue effort said.

Firefighter John Latham, from the 48th truck unit in the Bronx, said he headed to the scene after his night shift had ended to see if he could help. He was at the base of the towers when the top of one of the buildings collapsed and was blown back 20 feet.

“I was working at 2 Trade when the explosion went off there a few years ago,” he said. “That was nothing, that was a rubbish fire. It was serious but not like this”

Latham said there must have been explosives in the planes or in the building because it collapsed floor by floor.

As police, MTA workers and volunteers arrived on city buses and were escorted down to the rubble to join in the rescue effort, Father George Rutler made his way up Broadway.

He had been at the World Trade Center giving last rites and absolution to the firemen going into the buildings.

“They were really brave people and knew what they were getting into,” Rutler said.

The priest talked about an elderly fireman with cuts on his head and arms who would not leave the scene because there were people in the area in need of help. And he described the scene as something out of Hiroshima or an old World War I film.

“So many people were jumping off of the building who were above the fire,” Rutler said. “They were just hitting the ground.”

Pointing uptown the priest said “that looks like heaven” and pointing downtown toward the World Trade Center, he said “that looks like hell.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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