Features

'This is a crime scene'

9/11 | The aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon

Issue: "9/11," Sept. 22, 2001

At the Pentagon, evacuated employees-officials in full military dress mixed with civilians and janitors and chefs-stood by the hundreds around the edges of the parking lot watching the blaze engulf the western side of their massive office building.

Several people assisted an elderly female employee who had to leave the building without her walker. Hundreds discovered they could not contact their friends or loved ones on their wireless phones. Fire trucks from every local jurisdiction in northern Virginia were parked in a long row. Police and military personnel ushered employees out of the parking lot and onto the grassy hills surrounding the Pentagon as they placed yellow tape around the parking lot that read, "this is a crime scene."

Drivers of emergency vehicles quickly lost patience with the people milling around. "Get out of the way, you idiots," roared one voice out of a loudspeaker. Military personnel and men in FBI jackets pressed evacuees into the nearby shopping areas in Pentagon City and Crystal City. Yelled one FBI agent: "There is another hijacked airplane. This is not a safe area!" The announcement provoked some panicked individuals to climb fences lining the nearby exit of Interstate 395. Evacuators pressed others south across and under the interstate exit.

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Outside the Macy's department store at the Pentagon City mall, Defense Department employees wondered what they would do next. One woman complained: "I left my purse back there, my ID, my keys, my car. How am I going to get home? At least we're alive."

Major highways and minor streets leading away from the Pentagon were so jammed that clusters of evacuees walked away. Yelling out of the window of a van, one woman noticed friends on the street: "Nice to see you." One friend asked, "You're amused we're walking?" The woman replied, "No, it's nice to see you made it out here."

Tourists were also among the refugees pounding the pavement. Paul Lamb, who worked in Crystal City for the Navy for 20 years ending in 1993 before retiring to Bisbee, Ariz., was about to fly home when "they told us to get off the plane and get out of the airport." Mr. Lamb took a five-mile hike south to Alexandria's Old Town section to meet his son late in the afternoon. "My son said, 'Can you get to Alexandria by 4:30,' and I said, 'I can get anywhere in the next five hours.'" He joked, "I haven't seen a car pass me yet."

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