UPDATE: plane attacks leave New York paralyzed, world shocked

In what U.S. President George Bush called an “apparent terrorist attack,” two airplanes flew into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center just before 9 a.m. Tuesday morning local time, leading to loss of life, paralyzing city ground and air traffic, blocking communication, and halting trading on stock exchanges. The attacks appear to have been coordinated with incidents elsewhere in the country.

The attacks led the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to close all U.S. airports.

“Today we’ve had a national tragedy; two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country,” Bush said in remarks broadcast after the incident.

The attacks on the World Trade Center apparently were coordinated with similar incidents in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Explosions in Washington led to buildings being evacuated in that city. City centers and government buildings throughout major U.S cities such as Boston and Chicago were also evacuated during the morning, local time.

No group or individual was immediately blamed for the attacks or claimed responsibility.

Immediately after the explosions officials at the Nasdaq and New York Stock Exchange said they would suspend trading. About an hour after the incident, one of the twin towers of the World Trade Centers collapsed. Later in the morning, the other tower collapsed. Downtown New York’s financial district, the area in which the World Trade Center is located, was a scene of pandemonium, according to eyewitnesses.

“People are running down the streets screaming, cars are going through the streets backward, and the subways are closed. Someone down the hall from me saw people jumping from the World Trade Center,” said one eyewitness, describing the scene from an office building about half a mile away from the Twin Towers, just before the second one collapsed.

In addition, an explosion – another apparent plane attack, according to media reports – occurred at the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, right after the World Trade Center incidents. Later in the morning, an explosion was reported to have occurred around Capitol Hill in Washington, as well as Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat in Maryland. Both the Pentagon and the White House were evacuated, as were buildings throughout major cities in the United States.

In another incident, a plane on its way from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, crashed near Pittsburgh during the morning local time, according to media reports. Newark is within 10 miles of the World Trade Center.

No reports of the number of deaths or injuries were announced within the first hour of the attacks, though local eyewitnesses speaking on radio and television said they had seen bodies on the ground in the World Trade Center area.

One of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center had taken off from Boston and had been hijacked, according to media reports.

“I’ve ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who have committed this act. Terrorism against this nation will not stand,” Bush said in his remarks.

Major Internet news sites slowed to a crawl or became inaccessible. Telephone communication also became sluggish.

Telecommunication companies’ headquarters could not immediately reached for comment on the precise extent of disruption to the U.S. communication networks.

“As you can imagine, there are a lot of incoming calls that are trying to reach the United States and New York in particular,” said AT&T Corp.’s U.K. communications director, Phillip Coathup. “We are doing a lot of call blocking right now to make sure that the networks themselves don’t become blocked. In situations like these, the network is managed by blocking the calls locally. We obviously don’t know how long this will continue and at this point, I am not sure of the exact status of our networks inside of the United States.”

Other telecom officials echoed this statement.

“All networks are under a very heavy load at the moment, from the sheer volume of traffic. We’re working together with the other network operators to try to manage the load,” according to Peter Eustace, a Cable & Wireless PLC spokesman based in London.

Communication to the United States from spots in Asia was also disrupted.

“There are no circuits available to the United States at present. The lines are overwhelmed after the accident in New York,” said an international operator for KDDI Corp., the largest carrier of international calls out of Japan. Calls from Japan to other countries are also being hit as international capacity was completely saturated in the hours after the U.S. attacks.

(Stacy Cowley in New York, Laura Rohde in London, Martyn Williams in Tokyo and Rick Perera in Berlin contributed to this report.)