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COLUMN: Images of 9/11 attacks remain vivid 8 years later

For most of us it's easy to remember exactly where we were and what we were doing on that beautiful Tuesday morning - Sept. 11, 2001 - when terrorists attacked America. Just eight years ago, and my memory of that fateful morning remains vivid.

The images of that day are engrained in my mind. The Twin Towers, with the red, orange and yellow flames burning brightly and feverously against the bright blue New York City skies is an image we've seen replayed on televesion countless times. And each year on and around Sept. 11 we can expect to visually relive the tragedy.

I was working for the newspaper in Minot, N.D. in 2001 and my weekly schedule at the time had me working Wednesday through Sunday, with Mondays and Tuesdays off. That particular week I went to Bismarck on my days off to shingle my parents' house for them. Can't beat cheap family labor.

I recall getting an early start that Tuesday morning, and after working a couple hours came into the house to get something to drink. My mother was in the kitchen watching her little countertop television, and as I stood there sipping lime Kool-Aid, we saw the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. I recall standing in front of the television in shock, thinking it was odd for my mother to be watching a movie instead of the morning news. It wasn't a movie, and my next assumption was some sort of terrible accident was producing such powerful visual images . I figured some sort of mechanical mishap caused the plane to veer off course and slam into the tower.

When the second plane flew across the television screen and directly into the second tower at 9:03 a.m., It was painfully obvious what we were witnessing that morning was no accident.

I guess the first emotion to hit me was confusion. What the hell was going on here? Who would do this, and why? Then we were bombarded with visually over-stimulating images of the towers burning, and ultimately the collapse of first one, then the other. Before those images could even be fully processed we learned of the other two hijacked planes. One blasted into the Pentagon, and the other crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

There was no doubt we were under attack. I remember thinking someone had to get out there, wherever "there" was, and kick some ass. Unfortunately, there was nobody to fight in our immediate response. The hijacked planes crashed and blew up, killing everyone on board. Not being able to strike back is a frustrating feeling when you're looking to defend yourselves. I recall as a nation we wanted immediate retribution. Someone needed to pay, and now.

As painful as that day was, and the years to follow of trying to heal, bringing those responsible to justice has been a long process. First off, those who carried out the attacks died at their own hands that day with no chance for America to exact revenge against them. We've since captured and imprisoned some high-ranking al-Qaeda members, but the big one is still out there. We pinned the attacks on Osama Bin Laden, and until he is captured and executed America won't find full justice.

The War on Terrorism continues.

9-11 Statistics

Deaths - 2,993, including the 19 hijackers; 246 on the four planes (no survivors); 2,603 in New York City in the towers and on the ground; 125 at the Pentagon; an addtional 24 people remain listed as missing. All of the deaths in the attacks were civilians except for 55 military personnel killed at the Pentagon. More than 90 countries lost citizens in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

It's estimated 17,400 civilians were in the World Trade Center complex at the time of the attacks, while turnstile counts from the Port Authority suggest that 14,154 people were typically in the Twin Towers by 8:45 a.m., the vast majority of people below the impact zone safely evacuated the buildings, along with 18 people who were in the impact zone in the South Tower.

1,366 people died who were at or above the floors of impact in the North Tower. Hundreds were killed instantly by the impact, while the rest were trapped and died after the tower collapsed. As many as 600 people were killed instantly or were trapped at or above the floors of impact in the South Tower.

At least 200 people jumped to their deaths from the burning towers, landing on the streets and rooftops of adjacent buildings hundreds of feet below.

A total of 411 emergency workers who responded to the scene died as they attempted to rescue people and fight fires. The New York City Fire Department lost 341 firefighters and 2 FDNY paramedics. The New York City Police Department lost 23 officers. The Port Authority lost 37 officers, and 8 additional EMTs and paramedics from private EMS units were killed.

Cantor Fitzgerald L.P., an investment bank on the 101st-105th floors of One World Trade Center, lost 658 employees, considerably more than any other employer.

Immediate and long-term effects resulted in Congress passing, with President Bush's signature, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, creating the Department of Homeland Security, representing the largest restructuring of the U.S. government in contemporary history. Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, stating that it would help detect and prosecute terrorism and other crimes. Civil liberties groups have criticized the Patriot Act, saying that it allows law enforcement to invade the privacy of citizens and eliminates judicial oversight of law enforcement and domestic intelligence gathering. That led to the Bush Administration invoking 9/11 as the reason to initiate a secret National Security Agency operation.