NEW YORK (BP)–In a horrific sequence of destruction, terrorists hijacked two airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in a coordinated series of attacks this morning that brought down the twin 110-story towers.
An aircraft also crashed at the Pentagon, raising fears that the seat of government itself was under attack.
“I have a sense it’s a horrendous number of lives lost,” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told The New York Times. “Right now we have to focus on saving as many lives as possible.”
J.B. Graham, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New York, said Southern Baptists are devastated by the destruction.
“There are, of course, dear friends and colleagues who work and minister in Manhattan and we are greatly concerned about their safety,” Graham told Baptist Press.
“We are simply in shock,” Graham said. “But we have a strong faith and we are standing by ready to do what we can as soon as we determine what is needed.”
Graham said he had been in contact with David Dean, the associational missionary in Manhattan. “He said the staff is okay and they are all accounted for,” Graham said. “We praise God for that.”
Southern Baptist disaster relief units across the country have been placed on standby and may be mobilized before the end of the day.
And Southern Baptist chaplains will be available to minister to those impacted by these tragedies in the days ahead.
SBC President James Merritt said, “The world has witnessed firsthand today the terrible effects of sin and Satan’s handiwork in the brutal killing of many innocent people. I call on Southern Baptists all over the world to pray for the families of all involved whose lives have been touched by these terrible chain of events. Our SBC family has been reminded again that the only hope for this world is the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that many will turn to the truth of the gospel and that believers everywhere would sense a new urgency to bring people to a saving knowledge of God’s Son.”
Numerous sessions of prayer were held in Southern Baptist settings, from the SBC Building and LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville to the SBC seminaries and Baptist colleges.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said, “Southern Baptists from local churches, associations, and state conventions have already begun pouring themselves out in service to the injured and broken people who were the direct victims of these attacks.”
Chapman noted that Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, is leading a full-scale mobilization of Southern Baptist Convention ministry resources. Disaster relief units across the country have been mobilized. Ken Welborn, Southern Baptists’ missionary to the United Nations, is already ministering to the U.N. family following evacuation of that facility. In addition, Southern Baptist chaplains will minister to those impacted by these tragedies in the days ahead.
“Another resource, a spiritual one, is available to us, and that resource is prayer,” Chapman said. “Our hearts go out to the grieving families of those who suffered and died. We call upon our Southern Baptist family everywhere to begin a prayer vigil; to go upon our knees for the families of the victims of these attacks, for our nation’s leaders, and for our beloved country, that God will turn the hearts of our nation back to him.”
LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr. urged prayer for the nation during a trustees meeting at the LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center.
“Like you, I have been horrified by the terrorism that struck our nation Tuesday morning,” Draper said. “We are deeply grieved over the lives lost so suddenly and so tragically.
“The most important thing we can do is pray — for our nation, for our president and our government, for those who have been injured, for the families of those who have been killed, for police and rescue officials,” Draper said.
In New York, authorities had been trying to evacuate those who work in the World Trade Center, but many were thought to have been trapped. About 50,000 people work at the Trade Center complex. The two American Airlines aircraft hijacked were carrying a total of 156 people, according to the airlines.
President Bush ordered a full-scale investigation to “hunt down the folks who committed this act.”
Within the hour, an aircraft crashed on a helicopter-landing pad near the Pentagon, and the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol were evacuated.
One of the planes that crashed into the Trade Center was American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked after takeoff from Boston en route to Los Angeles, the airline said. American Airlines issued a statement saying it had “lost” two aircraft — Flight 11, with 92 people aboard, and Flight 77 from Washington to Los Angeles, carrying 64 people.
In Pennsylvania, United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757 en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, crashed about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The fate of those aboard was not immediately known and it was not clear if the crash was related to the disasters elsewhere. In a statement, the airline also said it was deeply concerned about another plane, Flight 175, a Boeing 767 bound from Boston to Los Angeles.
Glenna Hegenbart, executive administrative assistant for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey, said their phones have been ringing off the hook in response to the plane crash near Somerset.
“Our director of missions is also the chaplain for the emergency response teams in Somerset so he is quite busy this morning,” Hegenbart said. “We are just in disbelief. There is such a sadness for the loss of life.”
Authorities went on alert from coast to coast, halting all air traffic, evacuating high-profile buildings and tightening security at strategic installations. The Situation Room at the White House was in full operation.
At the World Trade Center, “everyone was screaming, crying, running, cops, people, firefighters, everyone,” said Mike Smith in an interview with Associated Press. “It’s like a war zone.”
“I just saw the building I work in come down,” said businessman Gabriel Ioan, shaking in shock outside City Hall, a cloud of smoke and ash from the World Trade Center behind him. “I just saw the top of Trade Two come down.”
Art Toalston contributed to this article.