Collapse of The World Trade Center - Mechanics of Twin Towers' Collapse

Mechanics of Twin Towers' Collapse

Both buildings collapsed symmetrically and more or less straight down, though there was some tilting of the tops of the towers and a significant amount of fallout to the sides. In both cases, the portion of the building that had been damaged by the airplanes failed, which allowed the section above the airplane impacts to fall onto the undamaged structure below. As the collapse progressed, dust and debris could be seen shooting out of the windows several floors below the advancing destruction, caused by the sudden rush of air from the upper levels. The first fragments of the outer walls of the collapsed North Tower struck the ground 11 seconds after the collapse started, and parts of the South Tower after 9 seconds. The lower portions of both buildings' cores (60 stories of WTC 1 and 40 stories of WTC 2) remained standing for up to 25 seconds after the start of the initial collapse before they too collapsed.

While the buildings were designed to support enormous static loads, they provided little resistance to the moving mass of the sections above the floors where the collapses initiated. Structural systems respond very differently to static and dynamic loads, and since the motion of the falling portion began as a free fall through the height of at least one story (roughly three meters or 10 feet), the structure beneath them was unable to stop the collapses once they began. Indeed, a fall of only half a meter (about 20 inches) would have been enough to release the necessary energy to begin an unstoppable collapse.

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