Pentagon officials say a multi-million-dollar bomb-proofing renovation program at the famous five-sided building minimized the damage and the casualty toll from this week's terrorist attack.
If there is a lucky twist to the tragic terrorist attack on the Pentagon, it is this: The American Airlines jetliner commandeered by terrorists slammed into the only portion of the World War II - era building to have thus far undergone special blast resistant structural modifications.
Pentagon renovation manager Lee Evey tells reporters these modifications include the installation of steel beam reinforcements, steel-framed windows with special shatter resistant thick glass and bulletproof Kevlar-cloth padding in the walls.
Mr. Evey says the modifications planned for the entire Pentagon - enabled the section that was hit to absorb tremendous punishment. "I'm here to tell you: Had we not undertaken this effort in the building, this could have been much, much worse," he said.
Mr. Evey cites as an example the experience of two of his staff, who were close to the impact area when the plane slammed into the Pentagon - one of the world's largest office buildings, and home to more than 20,000 employees. "They heard a tremendous noise, and they were shaken a bit," said Mr. Evey. "They don't have a scratch on them."
Mr. Evey then recounts how the two men were able to probe much of the area to help find survivors. "Immediately, the area filled with black smoke," he said. "These two individuals were on the fifth floor, on their hands and knees. They crawled through every office on the fifth floor, making sure anybody that was alive got out. They then crawled the same thing on the fourth floor, directly above where the airplane impacted the third floor. They crawled the second floor to every office to make sure that, if anyone there survived, they got out. They couldn't get into the first floor, so they crawled out of the building. This structure held, did not collapse for about 30 or 35 minutes. It gave them the time to do that. It gave people time to escape the area. Even if they were injured, they had an opportunity to get out. In addition, clearly the evidence we've seen, we believe the effect of this structure was to dramatically slow the plane as it entered the building, and reduced the extent to which it penetrated."
Evey estimates some3,500 people may have been working in the section of the building hit by the plane. Only some 190 people are believed to have lost their lives, 64 of them on the aircraft. Work crews continue to remove bodies from the impact area.
Officials estimate it will cost more than $100 million to repair the structural damage. But John Irby, Pentagon facilities manager, suggests it will be a labor of love.
The Pentagon is an amazing building, that you develop a warmth and a respect for its capability to respond to an emergency, and we're finding that it got us through this problem.
He says "you just learn to love the building like a sailor loves his ship."