NEW YORK -- The initial terror subsiding, television networks maintained an around-the-clock vigil to help a shocked nation come to terms with the frightening images of attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.
Special editions of newspapers were rushed out to try to explain the unexplainable. The biggest TV networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- planned to stay with the story continuously at least through Wednesday.
"Much of the chaos of earlier in the day has disappeared," CBS anchor Dan Rather said Tuesday night. "But the enormity of what has happened is seeping in to this city and the nation."
Carefully, and with agonizing slowness to a nation accustomed to instant news, media outlets began to add up the casualties. The full death toll may take weeks to become clear.
The television images of Tuesday morning -- a jumbo jetliner piercing the World Trade Center like a missile, plumes of smoke rising from a skyline forever altered by the skyscrapers' collapse and dazed survivors staggering through the streets -- gave way to new ones.
Members of Congress stood on the Capitol steps to sing "God Bless America," an angry President Bush stared out from the Oval Office, and rescue workers bathed in spotlights tried to do their jobs.
"I ran like hell," one survivor, his suit covered in soot, recounted on CBS. "Thank God. I'm 69, but I can still run."
Most local New York TV stations, except for WCBS, were knocked off the air when their transmitters atop the World Trade Center were destroyed. Their signals could still be seen over cable systems in the New York area. Roughly two-thirds of the nation's TV homes get cable or satellite.
Newspapers across the country put out extras. The Wall Street Journal evacuated its headquarters four blocks from the World Trade Center, but its staffers either worked from home or at a technical center in New Jersey to put out Wednesday's edition.
"This incident has shocked people," said Florida Times-Union Editor Pat Yack, whose newspaper distributed an eight-page special edition less than four hours after the attack. "There's nothing in people's lifetimes, with the possible exception of Pearl Harbor and President Kennedy's assassination, that matches it."
Internet traffic slowed under the demand of people seeking information online. The Internet search engine Google directed news seekers to get off the computer and turn on radio or television.
Networks showed footage of victims hurtling through the air from the World Trade Center, their landings obscured. CNN aired ghostly footage from the streets surrounding the disaster from a doctor who hid behind a car to escape debris.
Don Dahler, an ABC News correspondent, was in his apartment four blocks from the World Trade Center when he heard the first plane hit. He called "Good Morning America" and was immediately put on the air.
"It sounded a lot like a military missile," Dahler said. "There was a high, shrieking sound followed by a roar then a huge explosion. I knew immediately something terrible had happened."
The major television networks suspended competition, agreeing to share all footage gathered during the terrorist attacks and their aftermath. The agreement didn't stop CNN from hyping videophone images of a bombing in Afghanistan, an attack U.S. officials later insisted they had nothing to do with.
CBS News correspondent Carol Marin was a block away from the World Trade Center when the second tower collapsed. A nearby firefighter grabbed her and they ran away, Marin kicking off her heels. She was thrown against a wall, the firefighter protecting her with his body as smoke and debris blinded them.
"I am grateful to be alive and am awe-struck at the people who are down there," Marin said.
A Fox News Channel producer who is trained as an emergency technician, Dan Cohen, said he rushed to the scene and twice had to run for his life as the towers collapsed. He was later stationed at a makeshift hospital at Chelsea Piers, on the television set where the NBC drama "Law & Order" is produced.
"It now looks like the show 'M.A.S.H.,"' Cohen said.
One expert on terrorism suggested that the second plane to hit the World Trade Center was timed deliberately to be captured by television cameras already focused on the buildings after the initial attack.
"It was meant to be right before our eyes," said Joan Deppa, a Syracuse University professor and author of "The Media and Disasters: Pan Am 103." "This was staged like it was a TV show."
With so many events happening at once, news networks ran continuous crawls trying to summarize the events. TV networks that normally don't cover news made exceptions, or went off the air.
ESPN carried ABC News coverage, MTV and VH1 used CBS News reports, TNT and TBS carried CNN. The Food Network and HGTV suspended programming. TLC aired the BBC's coverage of the events, and C-SPAN took the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s feed.
And QVC stopped the shopping, instead urging viewers to donate blood for victims.
AP writers Frazier Moore, Douglas J. Rowe, Anick Jesdanun, William Kates and Seth Sutel contributed to this report.
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