AP Special CorrespondentWASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon went back to work Wednesday even as smoke poured from the gaping hole left by a terrorist assault that President Bush is vowing to avenge.
Civilian and military employees of the Defense Department drifted into their stricken headquarters before dawn. The building is "open and ready for business," Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen said.
But it was far from business as usual. White smoke still wafted across the northern Virginia highways and hillsides that overlook the Pentagon, from the side of the five-sided building penetrated by a hijacked airliner, and the effort of firefighters and rescue crews was unstinting through the night.
Bush, addressing the nation Tuesday night, condemned the "acts of mass murder" that brought down the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killed 266 people on four hijacked planes and breached the nerve center of the U.S. armed forces. The Arlington County fire department estimated 100 to 800 people died at the Pentagon; the death toll in New York was unknown but thought to be surely in the thousands.
"Our military is powerful, and it's prepared," a somber Bush said in his Oval Office address. Administration officials said early evidence pointed toward suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Streets around the White House were reopened overnight, but the capital city remained under close watch as Wednesday dawned with more police on patrol than usual. They were supplemented by 30 to 50 National Guardsmen stationed -- in pairs with a Humvee -- at more than a dozen street corners in the main business section.
Speaking less than 12 hours after two hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York, and a third jet into the Pentagon, Bush said in his televised address, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."
The president invited congressional leaders to a unity meeting at the White House on Wednesday morning.
Lawmakers also arranged to convene to condemn the terrorism -- a day after the Capitol was evacuated and congressional leaders were hastily ferried to an underground bunker 75 miles away.
"The Pentagon is functioning. It will be in business tomorrow," a defiant Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday night, despite the crash that sent a bright orange fireball skyward, caused the collapse of a section of one of the massive building's five sides.
Administration officials also said they would reopen downtown buildings that house federal agencies. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said he hoped to reopen the nation's air traffic system, penetrated by hijackers in four instances on a single day, but with stricter security measures in effect.
Bush, Rumsfeld, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and others pledged swift and sure retaliation once the culprits were identified.
Administration sources said the FBI was preparing to search locations in Broward County in south Florida and Daytona Beach in central Florida. The locations had links to a suspected bin Laden supporter whose name was on the manifest of one of the hijacked jetliners.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said U.S. intelligence intercepted communications between bin Laden supporters discussing the attacks.
The suspected fugitive terrorist has been sheltered in Afghanistan, but that nation's hardline Taliban rulers rejected suggestions he was to blame.
"I have no intent of discussing today what comes next," said Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "But make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready."
Officials declined repeatedly Tuesday night to estimate the number of injured or dead in the attacks. Bush himself referred to "thousands of lives" being ended and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said "I don't think we've had an inkling of the devastation" in downtown Manhattan.
Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said specially trained disaster mortuary response teams had been dispatched to New York and Washington to assist in the removal of bodies.
Amid the devastation, Bush offered reassuring words. "These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed," he said. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation."
Hastert seconded that in remarks on the Capitol steps at twilight. "We will stand together to make sure that those who have brought forth this evil deed will pay the price," he said. Moments later, he and scores of members of the House and Senate raised their voices in a rendition of "God Bless America."
The well-choreographed displays of public confidence-building seemed unlikely earlier in the day.
Bush awoke in Florida, and when word came of the attacks he was flown first to a secure military base in Louisiana, then to an underground facility in Nebraska where he convened a meeting of the National Security Council by telephone
Vice President Dick Cheney remained behind in Washington in a secure region of the White House. But Hastert, next in line for the presidency behind Cheney, was taken first to Andrews Air Force base outside Washington, then flown 75 miles to a government bunker. Other congressional leaders joined him there. And according to one person in attendance, they were able to monitor events on two televisions, talk occasionally with Cheney and receive a briefing from administration officials.
Rumsfeld was among those who rushed to help the injured at the Pentagon, and military and civilian helicopters assembled to carry the wounded to area hospitals.
The crash there sent billows of smoke over the Potomac River toward the nation's capital. Authorities said there were more than 60 passengers and crew aboard the plane, an American Airlines jet that had taken off moments earlier from Washington Dulles International Airport bound for Los Angeles.
Lawmakers briefed by law enforcement officials late Tuesday said knives seemed to be the weapons used by the hijackers in three of the four planes, based on cell phone calls.
Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., said law enforcement officials estimated three to five terrorists were on each plane.
The fourth hijacked plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, after making a U-turn toward Washington.
The city quickly became clogged with thousands of commuters eager to reach the safety of home. Within hours, the nation's capital seemed all but empty -- its grand museums closed and its imposing government office buildings emptied of all but essential personnel. Bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Government officials as well as members of the public gave voice to their anger.
"This is truly an act of war and it's worse than Pearl Harbor," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo.
Dozens of stranded airline passengers watched Bush's speech on television in the lounge at Dulles, applauding loudly when he promised to go after terrorists and those who harbor them.
"There is no panic, no fear -- just anger," said Lisa Newton. "There must be retaliation for this act, and I think that is what Americans will want to see in the coming days."