Lara's Reviews > 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers

102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer
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Jun 21, 2010

it was amazing

It was a Tuesday like any other. I rose after my normal snooze delay, always thankful for a few more minutes of rest, and got ready for work. My daily routine was uneventful. This morning was different, though. Unlike other weekdays the television remained off, freeing me from the usual background chatter of morning news anchors as I dabbed on some mascara and brushed my teeth. I relished the empty house and the total silence. I got in the car, buckled myself in and made a point not to turn on the radio as I embarked on my 45 minute commute into the the office. A few minutes into the ride my cell phone rang, jolting me out of my quiet fog and into a day that would forever live in infamy.

I can't tell you much else about that day except that it was Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and after that jarring phone call asking if I knew what was going on, the silence of the day was instantly shattered. I, along with our nation, was glued to the radio while in the car, in front of the computer at work and the television at home. It seemed that time stood still, or rather, needed to be rewound so that we could understand what was happening. We learned that American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of New York's World Trade Center at 8:42 a.m. Surely it was a pilot error or some kind of horrible mistake. But when 16 minutes later, at 9:02 a.m., United Airlines flight 75 crashed into the South Tower (followed by American Airlines flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. and the crash of United Airlines flight 93 near Shankesville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m.) it was clear this was no accident. This was a calculated, premeditated terrorist attack with aims to do severe and everlasting damage.

I am sure that for many of us the events that immediately unfolded became a blur. New York Times writers Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn bring clarity to the day by recounting every single moment of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center starting at 8:42 a.m. when the first jet crashed into Tower 1, until 10:29 a.m. when the second tower fell. 102 MINUTES: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE FIGHT TO SURVIVE INSIDE THE TWIN TOWERS is a significant body of work in capturing heroic and heartbreaking moments within and around the World Trade Center that fateful day.

Through countless interviews with survivors, families, city, state and federal officials, and research and review of phone and e-mail records, Dwyer and Flynn tell the stories of the day from the voices of the people who lived it, and those who ultimately did not. At just under 4oo pages, readers are exposed to the harrowing events of the crashes and the aftermath of challenges facing the World Trade Center's occupants due to the communication breakdowns between city agencies and the structural issues with the towers themselves.

I was fascinated reading their detailed account of the World Trade Center towers which were massive in their size and reach, yet ill-equipped to sustain the crash of a jumbo jet, despite building plans and agencies that said otherwise. They were built to maximize rentable space over safety, each with only three stairwells for 110 floors, four million square feet of office space and 20,000 occupants (versus the Empire State Building's nine stairwells for 102 floors, 2.25 million square feet and 15,000 occupants). I was baffled that infighting between NYPD, NYFD, NY Port Authority and other rescue agencies trumped necessary disaster recovery training and processes that clearly had a negative impact on the ability to share information. Rescue teams were unable to communicate which stairwells were clear and free for use, or that helicopters needed to be released to rescue tenants on the roof that couldn't descend past the floors consumed with wreckage, or even more crucial... when it was clear for folks to go back upstairs and back to work, to stay put and wait for help or when a total evacuation was necessary.

It's evident there were a number of mistakes attempting to clear out the towers. 102 MINUTES seeks not to point fingers at the failures, but to shed light on opportunities to do differently knowing what we now know. What they uncover through their research is important, vital even. It should be required reading for all of us, but most especially those in positions to impart change in the way we approach disaster and recovery efforts during an attack or high-rise fire.

And despite the harrowing events of September 11, I found myself utterly captivated by this book. My heart swelled reading the stories of humanity and generosity amongst strangers in a window of time--not even two hours!--that was fraught with terror and uncertainty. 2,749 people died in the attacks and 4,400 were injured. Dwyer and Flynn do not claim to have collected all the stories, but they have created an enduring record. As they share in their own words:

No single voice can describe the scenes that unfolded at terrible velocities in so many places. Taken together, though, the words, witnesses, and records provide not only a broad and chilling view of the devastation, but also a singularly revealing window onto acts of grace at a brutal hour.

102 MINUTES encourages us to carry on their legacy--even those we didn't have the pleasure to meet--and to never forget them.
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