The city was snarled beneath ground, as well as above, in the wake of the airplane attacks yesterday on the World Trade Center.
Subways ground to a halt downtown immediately after the early-morning crashes, with some trains remaining immobile for an hour beneath the ash-covered streets. New York City Transit then shut down the entire system for several hours.
By late afternoon, some semblance of service had been restored elsewhere in the city, but no service existed below 34th Street, and some lines stopped running considerably farther north than that.
Florence Pietrusewicz, 48, and her mother, Josephine Pietrusewicz, 84, were commuting on the N train from Flushing when it got stuck at City Hall. Both work as secretaries for an accountant on lower Broadway.
Smoke started filling the tunnel, Florence Pietrusewicz said. "I had to walk to the back of the train. There was smoke everywhere," she said.
Train workers tried to unhook the last pair of cars to move the rest back north but couldn't. Passengers had to walk through the tunnel to the station at Vesey and Church streets.
Pietrusewicz said people on her train were calm, but that wasn't the case everywhere.
Arvind Vij, a lawyer at Pillsbury Winthrop, a midtown firm, said he was trapped in a tunnel for 45 minutes. Smoke and dust were coming into the subway tunnels, and people were fighting and yelling to get off the train, he said. Finally, the train moved and people exited at Wall Street.
Conditions weren't any better above ground, Vij said. "There was so much dust, it was like a dust storm," he said.
Antoinette Benion and Brenda Briggins, friends from the Bronx, were on their way to work downtown when there was an explosion. They were at the Fulton Street station at Nassau Street when a wall of soot filled the station from above, Benion said. In an instant, the station was pitch black. They eventually found a light and followed it to the street, she said.
"I feel fortunate for the grace of God that it's not our time," Briggins said.
The southbound No. 4 train stopped just past Bleecker Street for an hour and a half. Given the nature of the disaster, some grew nervous at being trapped underground.
"It makes me a little paranoid being down here because I'm underground and I can't see," said Esther Frazier, 56, a bank worker who was trying to get to the Fulton Street station.
Despite the snarl, subways functioned well enough to aid the downtown evacuation, eventually carrying some passengers to Brooklyn and Queens.