WASHINGTON | With Washington under apparent attack, the streets of the nation’s capital quickly filled with cars and pedestrians rushing to get home this morning.
The mass exodus began shortly after an airplane hit the Pentagon, causing a huge, gaping hole in one side of the five-story building.
Cars poured out of garages and parking lots and pedestrians clogged the streets, as police officers tried to block off streets around the White House.
By mid-morning, the downtown area was in a traffic gridlock. Normally at that hour, there is little traffic.
Although heavily congested, the area appeared largely calm, even amid reports that smoke was billowing from behind the White House. Pedestrians speaking on cell phones were comparing notes about the tragedy.
The entire Pentagon _ one of the world’s largest office buildings with some 23,000 employees _ has been evacuated. Firetrucks and ambulances raced to the scene and began trying to rescue the injured.
One witness on local television said he saw a commercial jetliner hit the west side of the Pentagon, then watched as thick black smoke engulfed the area.
Two witnesses said they could identify the plane as belonging to American Airlines.
All federal buildings in Washington have been evacuated, officials reported, including the Capitol and surrounding office buildings.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark told CNN that the 4th, 5th, and 6th corridors appeared to have been hit. That area houses many Army offices.
One Pentagon employee, in an interview on Washington television, said hallways were “foggy” as workers tried to make their way to the nearest exits. But he described the evacuation process as orderly.
Television footage showed a gaping hole in the Pentagon that stretched from the exterior wall to the inner courtyard of the five-sided building.