It is 3.33 p.m. in Paris when the usual programs of France 2 are interrupted to give way to a special flash announcing several « explosions » resounding in New York, at the World Trade Center, evoking the hypothesis of an attack as the first images of the burning Twin Towers appear on the screen. By then, the two towers had already been hit, but journalists and viewers alike cannot yet imagine the unprecedented scale of these attacks.
Three years were necessary for the National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks on the United States to publish its official report precisely retracing the events of that day. On the occasion of the 20e anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks in history, we present a visual timeline.
A death toll of 2,977
If we exclude the 19 terrorists, these four attacks caused 2,977 deaths, according to the count communicated by the authorities. National commission reports that 2,973 people lost their lives on the day of the attacks – including passengers and crew on board pirated planes – to which were added, a few years later, four people who died after being exposed to the cloud of dust.
Among the victims were 348 firefighters, many of whom died as a result of the collapse of the south tower, which took rescuers by surprise. There are also 62 police officers dead inside or at the foot of the Twin Towers, including a member of the Secret Service and a member of the FBI, 20 officials working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the administration that owns the World Trade Center) or New York State, and 10 private sector rescuers, as well as the Port Authority’s sniffer police dog, Sirius.
At the Pentagon, 125 people working in the building were killed by the impact of American Airlines Flight 77, including 70 civilians and 55 military personnel. Not all of the victims of the attacks were American, since 372 nationals from 77 countries perished in these attacks, representing 12.5% of the balance sheet.
The evacuation of the towers saved nine out of ten people
Even if the toll is very heavy, it could have turned out to be even more catastrophic, given the extent of the destruction, on the World Trade Center site in particular.
In its final report on the attacks, published in 2005, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) notably underlined how effective the evacuation of the Twin Towers had been on the morning of September 11, 2001. In the north tower, struck first , at 8:46 a.m., almost all (99%) of the 7,500 occupants located under the impact zone of the aircraft were able to escape before it collapsed. In the south tower, almost all of the occupants of the floors below the impact zone were saved, with the exception of eleven people.
On the other hand, the people working above the areas destroyed by the crashes had almost no chance of survival. This is especially true for the north tower, in which none of the 1,355 people beyond 91e floor could not survive.
In the south tower, the evacuation began just after the north tower was struck. These seventeen-minute intervals saved 2,281 of the 2,900 occupants of the upper floors. After the impact, eighteen people were even able to descend using the only staircase that had not been completely destroyed.
Before the attack, 17,400 people were present in the tower, far from the 40,000 to 50,000 occupants usual at the start of the day. There are several explanations for this: it was back to school and a primary election was being held that day, which may have delayed the arrival of many workers. If the two towers had been fully occupied, NIST estimates that more than three hours would have been necessary to evacuate each of the buildings, which could have brought the human toll to nearly 14,000 dead.
The evacuation procedure had been revised and improved since the bombing of Islamist terrorists against the Twin Towers on February 26, 1993, which left six dead and more than a thousand injured. More than two-thirds of those in the binoculars had already exercised.
Nearly 3,800 survivors have died since the attacks
The official toll includes only those who died on the very day of the attacks. But the indirect deaths that took place in the following years are also very numerous, due to the exposure to the cloud of toxic dust generated by the collapse of the World Trade Center. – the Twin Towers and Building 7 – which covered lower Manhattan for several days.
According to data from the World Trade Center Health Program, 3,779 survivors or rescuers of 9/11 died from pathologies linked to the attacks: diseases of the aerodigestive tract (41%), cancer (40%) or mental illness (18 %). Rescuers, whether they are firefighters, police officers or doctors, are those who have paid the heaviest price: 2,901 of them died in the twenty years following the attack.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 400,000 rescuers, survivors or residents inhaled the pollutants contained in the thick cloud of dust (cement, asbestos, fiberglass, lead, mercury). Even today, it is estimated that at least 65,000 people benefiting from the World Trade Center health program suffer from an illness linked to the attacks.