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A look back at the morning of Sept. 11

It has been nearly a decade since terrorists attacked our homeland, destroying buildings on this hallowed ground, and killing nearly 3,000 Americans.

As "The Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge explained, 10 years after the attacks, Americans are still adjusting to life after 9/11. It's something none of us could have foreseen on that fateful September morning.

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On Sept. 11, 2001, the sun rose that late summer morning, shimmering against the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, revealing one of the most beautiful days of the year.

It was a morning that would change the world forever.

The day's top story: Michael Jordan's unexpected return to professional basketball. The headlines on the front pages were filled with business news, and the ongoing debate over stem cell research.

All that changed shortly before 9 a.m., when 19 terrorists hijacked four airplanes. Air traffic controllers were the first to hear the sound of terror.

"Nobody move, everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you will injure yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet," Mohammed Atta warned passengers on board American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower.

Aviation officials helplessly tracked the second plane, United Flight 175. The crash, just 17 minutes later, made clear the country was under attack.

White House chief of staff Andy Card whispered the news into the ear of President George W. Bush, who was reading with school children at Emma E. Booker elementary school in Sarasota, Fla.

After meeting with advisers, the president found himself in the school library addressing a nation, in shock.

"Today, we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country," the president said, less than an hour after the first attack.

They were hours of pure panic and terror: For those who were running for safety, and for a nation watching on television, wondering what would come next.

Moments later, a third plane, American Flight 77, this time into the Pentagon.

Frantic lawmakers evacuated the Capitol and the White House was on lockdown. United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth and final plane heading their way, taken down near Shanksville, Pa. by selfless heroes who saved countless lives, even if they couldn't save their own.

Then, the unimaginable. At 9:59 a.m., Tower 2, standing 110 stories into the sky, reduced to rubble in seconds. Twenty-nine minutes later, its twin, Tower 1, fell to the ground. Two symbols of American pride, two of America's tallest buildings, gone before our eyes. And with them, thousands of innocent victims, who had begun to fill their offices for work that morning.

Left in their places, was a burial ground, a crime scene, a war zone. It became known as "ground zero."

First responders were just beginning a herculean task that would last through countless days and nights. The fire at ground zero would burn for another 3 months.

But already by morning a new reality had set it. America had just experienced its darkest day.

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