'Popular Mechanics' Answers Rosie O'Donnell's Challenge to 9/11 Experts

March 31st, 2007 11:27 AM

So far, no Ivy League profs have responded to Rosie O'Donnell's royal command for an explanation from physics experts,but scientific mag “Popular Mechanics” did in their March 30 article. They don't wear elbow-patched tweed coats, but hopefully she will consider them authoritative. Last week, while discussing her pet 9/11 conspiracy theories, Rosie O’Donnell issued an imperial demand that someone “(g)et a physics expert here from Yale, from Harvard. Pick the school!” to explain how, in addition to other wacky ideas, “for the first time in history, steel was melted by fire,” causing World Trade Center Tower Seven to mysteriously collapse.

Presumably, she’s too busy to do the simple fact-finding herself, which is strange, because she isn’t new to using search engines to uncover information (“Google it! “). Newsbusters’ covered it here, and I wrote about her blog that continues these fantasies. The respected magazine penned a brief response to her main theories and tossed some cold reality on her wild rantings, laying them out numerically and focusing on her main claims (emphasis mine):

The implication that, unlike the Twin Towers, WTC7 did not have any external structural damage is addressed, partially with findings by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST :

Initial reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) misunderstood the amount of damage the 47-floor WTC7 sustained from the debris of the falling North Tower—because in early photographs, WTC7 was obscured by smoke and debris.

…After further studies, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) told PM that debris from the 110-floor North Tower hit WTC7 with the force of a volcanic eruption. Nearly a quarter of the building was carved away over the bottom 10 stories on its south face, and significant damage was visible up to the 18th floor (see p. 24 of this report).

The unusual design of WTC7 is also crucial to the discussion, in that key columns supported extreme loads—as much as 2000 sq. ft. of floor area for each floor—as the building straddled an electrical substation. “What our preliminary analysis has shown is that if you take out just one column on one of the lower floors,” NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder told PM, “it could cause a vertical progression of collapse so that the entire section comes down.” The tower wasn’t hit by a plane, but it was severely wounded by the collapse of the North Tower. Which is when the fires started

Now to Rosie’s main claims that the Twin Towers “got hit by planes” and her sardonic statement that WTC7 defied the laws of physics and “miraculously, the first time in history, steel was melted by fire." In contrast, PM stated that the Towers stood for “more than a half-hour after the impacts” and were brought down by raging fires, and WTC7 was weakened by fire:

The North and South Towers of the World Trade Center weren’t knocked down by planes—they both stood for more than a half-hour after the impacts. But the crashes destroyed support columns and ignited infernos that ultimately weakened—not melted—the steel structures until the towers could no longer support their own weights (NIST offers a primer here). Ms. O’Donnell fundamentally misstates the case with her use of the word “melting”: Evidence currently points to WTC7 also collapsing because fires weakened its ravaged steel structure.

PM described the fuel tanks located throughout the building (for the in-house emergency command center) that continuously fed the fires as they raged for seven hours weakening the underlying structure before the inevitable collapse.

Tower 7 housed the city’s emergency command center, so there were a number of fuel tanks located throughout the building—including two 6000-gal. tanks in the basement that fed some generators in the building by pressurized lines. “Our working hypothesis is that this pressurized line was supplying fuel [to the fire] for a long period of time,” according to Sunder. Steel melts at about 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit—but it loses strength at temperatures as low as 400 F. When temperatures break 1000 degrees F, steel loses nearly 50 percent of its strength. It is unknown what temperatures were reached inside WTC7, but fires in the building raged for seven hours before the collapse.

Rosie believes WTC7 was “pulled” or brought down with explosives. PM asked demolition experts who stated that her theory presents “insurmountable logistical challenges,” and instead PM pointed to a “clear-cut engineering explanation” for how and “why the building fell the way it did.” With the south face "heavily damaged," the other columns were "overtaxed," when "weakened columns failed."

We’ll have to see if Rosie addresses this article, and if she does, whether she chooses hard facts and science over the shrewd editing, misrepresentations and fanciful imaginations of the Truthers.

“Popular Mechanics” dealt with many of the 9/11 conspiracies in its 2006 book, “Debunking 9/11 Myths.”