On February 26, 1993, at 12:18 p.m., a small cell of terrorists, with links to a local radical mosque and broader Islamist terror networks, detonated about 1,200 pounds of explosives in a rental van in the underground parking garage at the World Trade Center. The terrorists fled the area after setting the bomb to explode. The explosion created a five-story crater in the sub-grade levels of the towers and undermined the floor of an adjoining hotel.
The terrorist attack killed six people. The victims were John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado and Monica Rodriguez Smith, who was pregnant.
More than 1,000 people were injured, including 88 firefighters, 35 police officers, and an emergency medical services worker. About 50,000 people evacuated from the WTC complex.
The towers were relatively full when the bombing occurred, as wintery conditions may have kept many inside during the normal lunch hour. The explosion knocked out electrical power to the hotel, and significant areas within the North and South towers, affecting the operation of elevators, emergency communication, ventilation systems, and lighting. Emergency power generators were also damaged by the blast. They shut down after 20 minutes.
Most non-cable television stations in the greater New York area were blacked out, as the transmitters atop the North Tower lost power. Hundreds of WTC tenants and visitors were trapped in elevators, and thousands of others in the towers began to evacuate before first responders reached them.
Within minutes, the North Tower lobby filled with thick black smoke. Some WTC tenants began an evacuation down dark and smoky stairwells with improvised light sources such as cigarette lighters or mini-flashlights. Others were impeded by increasing smoke in the stairwells and forced to wait in conditions severe enough in some areas for tenants to break out windows.
The complex’s telephone lines were working, and reports of those trapped in the buildings soon overloaded the city’s 911 system. More than 100 visitors to the observation deck, many of whom were young children, were instructed to evacuate from the 107th floor using stairs. Another 72 school children and teachers were rescued from an elevator, after being trapped for hours.
Local, state and federal agencies responded to the incident and contributed to what was then the largest coordinated rescue effort in New York City history. Within an hour, power for the entire WTC complex was shut down because of safety risks to firefighters working near water sources, leaving the buildings and its occupants in the dark.
Some Port Authority of New York & New Jersey staff with specialized knowledge of the building remained in the towers to assist with the evacuation and rescue. New York City Police Department helicopters transported rescue personnel to the roof to assist in stairway evacuations of tenants on the upper floors.
The general evacuation of WTC tenants took more than four hours. Rescuers checked all 210 elevator cars – freeing trapped people from 45 of them – and searched each floor in the three buildings, more than eight million square feet of space. Later that evening, 28 people with medical conditions, including one woman in labor, were escorted to the roof by NYPD and airlifted to an EMS staging area.