Features

An anniversary we didn't want

"An anniversary we didn't want" Continued...

Issue: "9/11 remembered," Aug. 17, 2002

World Trade Center

It seemed inconceivable that the World Trade Center towers could simply disappear. Yet that's just what happened, right before the eyes of millions. The two towers that so completely dominated the striving skyline of New York suddenly vanished behind the buildings they had once dwarfed.

Up close, of course, there was still a mountain of debris to deal with. At first, the dump truck drivers were applauded like heroes on the streets of New York, but such an ovation could only last so long. After the first thousand or so loads were hauled away, New Yorkers stopped noticing. But officials were still counting: as of early August, nearly 109,000 loads, totaling 1.65 million tons of concrete, steel, and other debris.

In time, new concrete and steel will be trucked in to fill the hole in Lower Manhattan, where developers abhor an empty lot the way nature abhors a vacuum. But the six plans submitted for consideration have done little to quiet the debate over the future of the site-perhaps because the past was only so recently carted away, one truckload at a time.

Pentagon

A jet loaded with hundreds of thousands of pounds of fuel crashed into the Pentagon at perhaps 500 mph-and many in the building never even felt the impact. Call it a tribute to Depression-era engineering: Never flashy or awe-inspiring like the World Trade Center, the Pentagon's low-slung, concentric-circle design sustained a direct hit yet remained defiantly intact.

Two rings collapsed on the building's west side, and 125 people died in their offices or onboard American Airlines Flight 77. But as the terrorists quickly learned, America's war-making capabilities were never severely compromised. Displaced workers commandeered nearby buildings, including a Citgo gas station, to set up their laptops and make important phone calls. Some were back in their offices before the sun rose on Sept. 12, planning the nation's retaliation.

If the military response was swift, the reconstruction was even more so. Crews worked night and day to clear the debris, then began the task of rebuilding. No design debates here: The new construction will precisely match the existing building, wiping away any visual reminder of the attack on the nation's capital. And, though their contracts don't call for it, construction companies vow they'll finish the job by Sept. 11, 2002.

Airports

Politicians promised that terrorism would never change "the American way of life," and yet clearly it did. Travel as a way of life has yet to recover from the attacks. For weeks after Sept. 11, the nation's airports looked like clean, shiny ghost towns. Airlines dropped hundreds of flights from their schedules and mothballed billions of dollars worth of planes. Only a huge congressional bailout prevented the entire industry from declaring bankruptcy.

Slowly, Americans started flying again, but not in the same numbers as before-and certainly not in the same style. Airport lines became so long that luggage manufacturers began designing rolling bags with built-in seats, and passengers resigned themselves to frequent pat-downs and searches.

Washington promises that things will get better, but no one can say just when. By Nov. 19, all baggage screeners are supposed to be federal employees, but the new Transportation Security Administration is having trouble hiring enough workers to staff the nation's 429 commercial airports. Moreover, the Transportation Department insists there's no way it can meet a Dec. 31 deadline for installing high-tech X-ray machines in all those locations.

So, for the moment, those lines at the airport don't seem to have any end in sight-especially if you happen to be standing in one.

Wall Street

Has Wall Street recovered from Sept. 11? If Wall Street means the physical location, just five blocks from the World Trade Center, yes.

Although the New York Stock Exchange was closed for an almost unprecedented four days following the terrorist attacks, it triumphantly reopened for business on Sept. 17.

The problem is, business hasn't been so great since then. Despite sporadic attempts at recovery, the markets today still hover around their post-Sept. 11 lows. Wall Street, as shorthand for American business, still has a long way to go.

Corporate accounting scandals have rocked the Street almost as much as the fall of the World Trade Center. Stock prices are based (loosely, at least) on earnings, and earnings at some companies are starting to look entirely arbitrary.

The crisis of confidence among investors has become so acute that Congress recently passed-almost unanimously-a sweeping new bill aimed at halting accounting fraud. But with consumer confidence plunging, it may be too little, too late. Many economists are starting to worry about a double-dip recession, something that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago.

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