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More horrible toll
Study shows that as many as 14,000 might have died
in Twin Towers if attacks had happened at later hour
Newsday - Wednesday, April 06, 2005
BY GRAHAM RAYMAN
Federal scientists studying the collapse of the World Trade Center towers said that as many as 14,000 people would have died had the attack occurred later in the day.
The $16 million agency study, which was ordered by Congress, found that if the towers had been full at the time of the attack, a full evacuation would have taken four hours. As it was, there were 17,400 people present in the towers that morning, about one third of capacity, the study concluded. The attack claimed 2,749 lives.
The study also concluded that poor communications contributed to the deaths of emergency responders on Sept. 11, 2001.
The conclusion was part of an initial release of the final report on the tragedy by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. A total of 343 firefighters, 26 city police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers died in the attack.
"Evidence indicates that the lack of timely information sharing and inadequate communications capabilities likely contributed to the loss of emergency responder lives," the report concluded. "One interviewee noted that 'if communications were better, more firefighters would have been saved.'"
Agency officials released 3,400 pages of the study yesterday, but it is just a fraction of the total report, which will run to more than 10,000 pages when it is released in June. More than 200 people have worked on the study.
Speaking at a midtown hotel yesterday, Shyam Sunder, the acting deputy director of the agency and lead investigator, said the study includes some of the most sophisticated computer simulations ever produced.
"The overall collapse was caused by a number of factors," Sunder said, adding that any one of the three elements alone probably would not have led to the collapses.
The agency team concluded that the towers would have survived the impact, even though critical core and exterior columns were damaged and weakened. "While the buildings were hurt, they still had a lot of strength left," Sunder said.
The jet fuel was ignited by exposed electrical wiring. Fires began to eat up the thousands of desks, chairs, computers and other office equipment on multiple floors, he said.
Most critically, the impact dislodged the fireproofing, exposing the steel to intense heat.
The intense heat from the fires, fed by desks, chairs, computers and other common office contents, started to soften exterior and interior columns, and caused the floors to sag.
The sagging floors pulled or bowed the exterior inward until the columns became so unstable that they could not support the weight. In the north tower, the exterior had bowed inward at seven minutes before the collapse by 55 inches, or nearly 5 feet.
"That instability just zipped through the buildings," Sunder said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday he had not examined the report, but praised the performance of first responders that day.
"It is a very different city today than it was three years ago. We have a much improved communications system, the radios are dramatically better, we learned some lessons from that day."
The agency concluded that the lingering questions about the durability of the fireproofing in the Twin Towers were rendered irrelevant by the powerful impact of the planes. Sunder noted, however, that no test was done by the towers' builders back in the 1960s to determine the strength of the fireproofing.
He said currently there is a variety of a paint-like fireproofing that might have better withstood the impact.
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