Sweeping security improvements at the Pentagon, carried out over the past three years, prevented Tuesday's terrorist attack from being far worse, defense officials said Saturday.
A web of steel reinforcements in the western end of the building, where a hijacked jetliner struck, delayed the structure from caving in for about 30 minutes, long enough for hundreds of employees to escape.
"Had it not been for that, we would have had a much larger collapse," said Lee Evey, program manager for Pentagon renovation.
Officials showed a videotape of the interior of the burned-out section of the building, shot by Air Force combat camera operators. The video showed massive damage: daylight streaming through collapsed ceilings, shattered glass, twisted metal, mangled venetian blinds, melted light fixtures, pools of water on the floor. Abandoned offices showed hints of Tuesday's chaos: dangling phone receivers and desks littered with debris: eyeglasses, tipped-over coffee mugs, an overturned jar of green Jolly Rancher candies, a framed photograph blown off a wall.
The section of the building that was hit by American Airlines Flight 77 was held up by new steel columns and shielded by 2-inch-thick, blast-resistant windows that weighed about 2,500 pounds each. Kevlar cloth, the same material used in bulletproof vests, lined the walls. New automatic fire doors and fire sprinklers also were functioning.
Only about one-fifth of the massive federal building has received the improvements, part of a 20-year, $1.2-billion-plus renovation, but the plane hit where the walls had recently been strengthened.
Renovations in the area that was struck were only days from completion. Now the effort will begin again. While the cost is uncertain, it probably will be hundreds of millions of dollars.