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Transcripts Reveal Haunting Images of 9-11

August 29, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ On the 78th floor of the World Trade Center, Anthony Savas waited vainly for help in a stranded elevator. Fifty-six stories below, a woman used wet tissues to keep out the smoke as Gene Raggio climbed to her aid. And outside the doomed twin towers, Ed Strauss waited for two co-workers. These final glimpses of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, along with the first frightening peek behind the scenes of the nation’s worst terrorist attack, emerged Thursday from 2,000 pages of transcripts released by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the trade center’s owner.

Savas, Raggio and Strauss were three of the 47 civilian Port Authority employees killed in the attack that collapsed the twin towers.

``Listen, this is Tony Savas,″ the Port Authority construction inspector says. ``I’m on the 78th floor. I’m trapped in the elevator. Water and debris is coming down. ... Please send somebody to open the doors.″

The transcripts also detailed the frenzy of phone calls that followed the terrorist attack on the trade center: Trapped workers begging for an escape route from its 106th-floor restaurant. Anguished wives desperately seeking lost husbands. Screams and sirens echoing in the background as bodies dropped from the sky.

Many callers were inaudible, yet the horror and hysteria of the September morning jumps off the typed pages.

``Yo, I’ve got dozens of bodies, people just jumping from the top of the building onto ... in front of 1 World Trade,″ says a male caller. ``People. Bodies are just coming from out of the sky ... up top of the building.″

``Bodies?″ replies a female operator.

Raggio, 55, an operations supervisor at the trade center, responded to a call for help from a woman trapped when the doors wouldn’t open on the 22nd floor.

``How are you doing up there?″ he asked.

A woman responded they had used wet tissues to keep the smoke out, but they couldn’t escape.

``OK,″ said Raggio. ``We are working our way up to 22.″

Strauss, 44, of Edison, N.J., called for help from co-workers in the midst of the disaster.

``Can you send me a couple people?″ he asked. Strauss said he would meet them on ``Church Street, kinda, right by the steps here.″ He was not heard from again.

A spokesman for the Port Authority praised the efforts of its workers under an extraordinary strain compounded by confusion and miscommunication.

The transcripts ``show people performing their duties very heroically and very professionally on a day of horror,″ Port Authority spokesman Greg Trevor said.

The transcripts were created from tapes of emergency calls and radio transmissions made after the hijacked planes were slammed into the twin towers by al-Qaida operatives. Their release comes two weeks before the second anniversary of the attack.

Callers reported missiles fired downtown from the top of the Chrysler Building, and a bomb scare came in from the George Washington Bridge. There were decisions that proved disastrous, like setting up a command center in the doomed north tower.

For some, there was the sweet relief of breathing in the temporarily fresh air.

``I’m alive, Dennis,″ said one man who was not identified. ``I’m outside the building and I’m healthy.″

At least two wives, unaware they were to be widows, tried to learn their husbands’ whereabouts. Neither Port Authority Officer Donald McIntyre nor his boss, Executive Director Neil Levin, ever made it home.

People were stranded throughout the buildings, with calls for help pouring in from the 78th floor, the 88th, the 103rd, the 107th. One male caller from the 92nd floor of the second tower asked a Port Authority police officer, ``Should we stay or should we not?″

``I would wait ’til further notice,″ the officer replied.

A similar call _ with the same police response _ came in shortly after. No one in the top floors of the tower survived after the second plane hit around the 80th floor shortly after 9 a.m.

The evacuation of 2 World Trade Center, the second tower hit, became a source of anguish to the victims’ families. Some survivors have already said they were advised to remain in the building.

The transcripts illustrate the contradictory information within the Port Authority itself in the initial moments, with one conversation reflecting an early discussion of evacuating people from the two buildings after the first plane hit. In all, an estimated 25,000 people successfully evacuated the towers.

Windows on the World assistant manager Christine Olender called to report people stranded on the 106th floor.

``We need direction as to where we need to direct our guests and our employees, as soon as possible,″ she says, citing increasing smoke.

``We’re doing our best,″ replied a Port Authority officer. ``We’re trying to get up to you, dear.″

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