NEW YORK — A chaotic scene of devastation unfolded on national television Tuesday with cameras catching a plane crashing into the World Trade Center and the subsequent collapse of both of the towers.
Television networks began live coverage of a morning of terrorism at the time the first plane hit the New York City landmark. With cameras trained on the smoking skyscraper, television caught the second plane crashing into the other tower, footage replayed several times.
As the terror spread, CNN showed a split screen view of the smoking World Trade Center and the Pentagon, where smoke billowed from another plane crash.
Reports spread as fast as television could detail them — planes grounded across the country, the White House evacuated, an apparent explosion on Capitol Hill — while commentators tried to keep calm.
"This may be one of the worst tragedies ever to strike this country," said MSNBC's John Siegenthaler.
A producer from CNN, Rose Arce, reported people jumping from the World Trade Center and described the chaos gripping lower Manhattan.
Cameras then caught the collapse of both of the twin towers, showing white smoke billowing throughout the streets of lower Manhattan. A shaken Ashleigh Banfield reporting on MSNBC described debris showering around.
"Oh, my God," a breathless Banfield said. "It's just unbelievable."
C-SPAN took phone calls from shaken citizens. One caller from California said: "This is a sign to America: We think we are the strongest country and they hit us; they knew where to hit us."