The US military's massive Pentagon headquarters, scarred by a terrorist strike, reopened for limited business on Wednesday as rescue teams continued to search through the rubble for missing workers.
The defense department said yesterday that there are 126 people unaccounted for, not including the 64 passengers and crew on the airliner. Sixty bodies have been found and the officials said they fear up to 190 are dead.
Dozens of firefighters finally put out a stubborn roof fire on the blackened concrete structure more than 24 hours after a hijacked fuel-laden airliner slammed into a corner of the five-sided building.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that earlier estimates by fire officials that as many as 800 workers could be unaccounted for were apparently much too high.
"From everything that we currently know, the estimate that has been widely reported is considerably high. I hope and pray that it is," he said at a Pentagon news conference.
He said it could be "several days" before workers got into the blackened rubble -- 16,000 tons of it, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency .
"They are now using big cranes with balls, trying to break through," Rumsfeld told NBC television.
"Until those walls are removed and the sides of the building stabilized, it has been too dangerous to get in there," he added. "Today they began removing some of the bodies, some of the victims, and it's just going to take some time."
President George W. Bush visited the Pentagon to inspect the damage and said he was "overwhelmed by the devastation.
"Coming here makes me sad on the one hand. It also makes me angry," said the president, standing in front of the building's blackened, gashed facade.
The Defense Department said in a statement that the area where the aircraft struck and burned sustained such catastrophic damage that "anyone who might have survived the initial impact and collapse could not have survived the fire that followed."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States had "credible evidence" that the American Airlines 757 jet, hijacked shortly after taking off from nearby Dulles International Airport bound for Los Angeles, was supposed to crash into the White House instead of the Pentagon.
He declined to give any details.
Four special "Urban Search and Rescue Teams" of about 60 members each began moving into parts of the damaged area of the Pentagon on Wednesday afternoon to shore up unstable wreckage and allow for a thorough search for possible survivors.
The hijacked jetliner's "black box" instrument package, containing data on its flight path was still buried in the rubble.
"It's like a game of pick-up sticks," Chief Mike Tamillow of the First Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department said. "If you pull out the wrong one they could all come crashing down. That's exactly what we're were trying to prevent."
Shortly before noon, with concern growing that the fire might spread further in the wooden structure under the slate roof, many people began to leave the building. Pentagon officials said an order had been given to evacuate in response to a "false alarm." Those who had left quickly returned.
Rescue workers ran briefly from the damaged area outside at about the same time when an unidentified aircraft was reported to be approaching Washington. But that, too, was a false alarm.