41 pages • 1 hour readJim Dwyer, Kevin Flynn
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102 Minutes, by New York Times journalists Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, is a nonfiction account that chronicles 102 minutes inside and outside the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Published in 2005, it was a National Book Award finalist that year.
The day begins like many others, with workers inside the buildings comprising over 220 vertical acres checking emails and sipping coffee at 8:30 a.m. Others arrive after dropping off their children at school. Sixteen minutes later, America is forever changed. More than 14,000 people were inside the Trade Center when United Airlines Flight 11 smashed into the north tower at 8:46 a.m.
As the narrative progresses, flames swallow the upper floors. People in the south tower are not sure what has happened. Employees at Muziho/Fuji, a banking firm which has offices from the 79th to 82nd floors, evacuate their south tower office. When they reach the lobby, a trade-center security person informs them the issue is in Tower One, so they return to work. Fifteen minutes later, at 9:01 a.m., United Airlines Fight 175 strikes the south tower. In the aftermath, chaos and confusion reigns, as employees trapped above the point of impact are desperate to escape the flames that soon swallow their office spaces. The impact destroys stairwells, traps elevators between floors, and creates an inferno inside the poorly-fireproofed towers. Similarly to how the Titanic lacked enough lifeboats for all of its passengers, the World Trade Center buildings lacked adequate escape routes, as safety restrictions were eased by a 1968 code, after real estate industry advocates claimed new technologies made old requirements obsolete. Of three stairways in the south tower, only stairway A remains passable, a fact that remained unknown to many, including the fire department personnel.
Despite the hundreds of firefighters who arrive at the towers within minutes, the small number of stairways and unsuccessful fireproofing between floors and along the walls create a recipe for disaster. The building is supposed to be designed to contain fires to only a few floors, for a few hours, allowing emergency workers to perform their duties. This leaves people inside the towers largely on their own. Many civilians risk and lose their lives ascending the towers to rescue others.
Dwyer and Flynn dedicate great lengths of page space to chronicling the details, down to the minute, of that morning, while exposing how rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of a clear evacuation plan and by overconfidence in the building’s indestructibility. Further, poor communication also hampered the rescue effort. The New York Police Department had information that might have saved many more that morning, including hundreds of firefighters who, despite fire chiefs knowing this was a blaze that would not be put out, lug fifty-six pounds of gear per man, trekking up the building stairways.
Based on eyewitness accounts, oral narratives, emergency phone call transcripts, and other research, chapters shift between moments in the north and south towers, documenting escape, evacuation, and rescue attempts. While humanizing the long list of the dead, giving second life to their final moments, the book also details the confusion and miscommunication elicited by the disaster.