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Photo Essay

Ahead of 20th anniversary, 20 images that captured the enormity of 9/11

Street scenes chart escalating horror as people stare and weep at burning skyscrapers, then run from billowing dust cloud after one of them crumbles

Pedestrians flee the area of New York's World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Pedestrians flee the area of New York's World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

AP — It was a day of indelible images — apocalyptic, surreal, violent, ghostly, both monumental and profoundly personal. Wrenching to remember. Impossible to forget.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were captured in countless pictures by news photographers, bystanders, first responders, security cameras, FBI agents and others. Even an astronaut on the International Space Station took some.

Twenty years later, The Associated Press has curated 20 of its photographers’ frames from September 11, 2001, when hijackers used commercial planes as missiles and crashed into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and toppled the trade center’s 110-story twin towers.

These photos document the enormity, chaos and emotion of 9/11 on every scale, from panoramic views of smoke rising over New York’s skyline to a close-up of the anxious, smudged face of a woman hastening down a street blanketed with ashen dust.

Street scenes chart escalating horror as people stare and weep at the burning skyscrapers, then run from the dust cloud billowing through lower Manhattan after one of them crumbles. Flames shoot from the windows of the Pentagon, a global symbol of military might that proved vulnerable to an attack by a handful of Islamists. A falling human form, almost silhouetted against one of the trade center towers, shows one of the most agonizing horrors of all.

Some show more intimate views of pain, but also humanity — an injured firefighter’s screaming face; a woman walking through the eerie blizzard of trade center debris with her arm around someone else’s shoulder; the then-deputy chief of the Army Reserve, Col. Malcolm Bruce Westcott, holding a comforting hand to Pentagon employee Racquel Kelley’s brow while assessing her for shock. There are images of determination, including firefighters working amid the smoky rubble and a shopkeeper sweeping up the dust of catastrophe.

Finally, as night falls, people gaze across New York Harbor at the smoke, trying to make sense of what happened in front of their eyes. As we still are today.

Pedestrians in lower Manhattan watch smoke billow from New York’s World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Smoke billows through buildings in Manhattan as seen from Brooklyn after the collapse of New York’s World Trade Center, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Harry Shasho sweeps up before being evacuated from his vitamin store after the collapse of New York’s World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett)
Smoke billows from one of the towers of the World Trade Center as flames and debris explode from the second tower, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Chao Soi Cheong)
People flee the scene near New York’s World Trade Center Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)
Thick smoke billows into the sky from the area behind the Statue of Liberty, lower left, where the World Trade Center was, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Daniel Hulshizer)
Fire and smoke billows from the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/David Karp)
A person falls from the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center as another clings to the outside, left, while smoke and fire billow from the building, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
People flee the falling South Tower of the World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Pedestrians flee the area of New York’s World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
In this Tuesday, September 11, 2001 file photo, White House chief of staff Andrew Card whispers into the ear of president George W. Bush to give him word of the plane crashes into the World Trade Center, during a visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
People cover their faces as they escape the collapse of New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett)
Flames and smoke pour from a building at the Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Will Morris)
People walk over New York’s Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn following the collapse of both World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Deputy chief of the Army Reserve, Col. Malcolm Bruce Westcott, comforts Pentagon employee Racquel Kelley while giving her medical aid outside the Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Will Morris)
Two women hold each other as they watch the World Trade Center burn in New York Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Ernesto Mora)
Pedestrians on Pierrepont Place in the Brooklyn borough of New York, watch as smoke billows from the remains of the World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
A firefighter moves through piles of debris at the site of the World Trade Center in New York, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Graham Morrison)
Firefighters work beneath the destroyed mullions, the vertical struts, of the World Trade Center in New York on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
The remains of the World Trade Center stand amid the debris in New York, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Alexandre Fuchs)

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