"It was a matter of seconds from the time [firefighters] noticed [the first] building collapsing until it came down," a firefighter said. "One company pulled up and didn't even make it off the rig before being crushed ... a chauffer was trapped and crushed in the rig."
The same firefighter, who was not on duty, said he had to run two blocks to avoid being crushed by the falling debris. A fifth alarm was on the scene by the time the first building collapsed. One of the command posts and triage areas were covered by the falling rubble.
"I'm still stunned," he said, adding that firefighters were also in and around the second building when it collapsed. Both collapses, he said, happened within moments of first indications that they were imminent.
At 1:45 a.m. Wednesday, dispatchers reported to command that an individual called 911 saying he was trapped inside the collapsed #7 building. Other reports earlier in the evening were similar. As late as early evening, sources reported firefighters calling in on portable radios to report that they were trapped.
Volunteer companies from Long Island were covering in the city's borough's early Wednesday morning.
Terrorists crashed two hijacked jetliners into the two 110-story towers this morning, which both later collapsed as emergency crews were just beginning an intense search and rescue effort.
Within the hour, a third plane crashed into a side of the Pentagon in Washington, creating a fireball and injuring scores of people. By 4:30 p.m., rescue crews there were just beginning to get a sense for the number of injured and dead inside the structure. Units from numerous jurisdictions were assisting in the effort.
Thousands are feared dead in the attacks, and search, rescue and recovery efforts could take days, if not longer. Hundreds were apparantly killed aboard the four jetliners alone -- all were cross-country flights.
Because of the difficulty of digging through the rubble, only 82 fatalities had been confirmed as of Wednesday. Airline officials said another 152 people were on the two planes that smashed into the towers.
The mayor said 202 firefighters and 57 police officers, as well as the World Trade Center's head of security, were among the missing.
A fourth jetliner, also hijacked, crashed in Pennsylvania. Passengers on that plane are reported to have planned an attempt to overtake terrorists.