Grim details emerge, as business goes on

Financial services firms in lower Manhattan whose offices were destroyed or damaged in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks struggled to put on their best faces Wednesday, even as thousands of employees remained unaccounted for and city officials said they could only guess at the death toll.

The 30-year-old World Trade Center, a complex of seven buildings at the southern tip of Manhattan, was home to headquarters or key operations of some of the nation’s biggest biggest banks, investment firms, and bond and stock trading firms, as well as lawyers and others who worked in the industry.

The devastation also touched nearby buildings that had a similar array of financial industry tenants, and brought activity in the world’s most important financial district to a standstill.

In a prepared statement, Donald G. Ogilvie, the executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, tried to reassure consumers that the industry could withstand the trouble.

“While it would be hard to consider these past 24 hours as business as usual, the banking system continues to operate smoothly, deposits are protected, and customers worldwide have access to their funds,” Mr. Ogilvie said. “Throughout history, U.S. banks have been prepared for and responded to disasters both real and imagined.”

Many companies were able shift operations to other offices and back-up systems, keeping some activities alive for the day. But others, such as the investment banks Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. and Sandler O’Neill & Partners LP, could only assess the damage from the loss of as much as one-third of their staffs. See related stories below.

Morgan Stanley, the largest tenant, with 3,500 employees in the complex, said it was open for business Wednesday, and was continuing to settle equities trades placed in recent days. An undisclosed number of employees were still missing, though chairman Philip Purcell told CNN “a vast majority” had escaped.

Cantor Fitzgerald, one of the largest U.S. bond trading firms, had about 1,000 people on four floors near the top of the north tower. As of midday Wednesday only about 200 had been accounted for, executives told Reuters.

The insurance and consulting firm Marsh & McLennan said about 700 of its 1,700 employees in the trade center were still missing as of Wednesday noon.

James Lyons, the personnel supervisor at Thacher Proffitt & Wood LLC, an international corporate firm that occupied floors 38 to 40 of the second tower, said that as of noon Wednesday only 19 of the 300 people who had worked at the office were still unaccounted for.

He said that the law firm was not at full capacity during the attacks because the office regularly opens at 9:15 a.m. “We had ample time to evacuate,” he said. Most law offices in the Wall Street area typically open between 9:15 and 9:30.

Deutsche Bank, which had employees on four floors of the complex, said it had evacuated employees from its trade center offices on Tuesday and had told nonessential employees to stay home Wednesday. A spokesman declined to say how many employees were still missing, but he read a statement that said, “We are continuing to work with the authorities to verify the safety of our employees and will communicate that information to families as it becomes available.”

A variety of other banks, and financial firms issued similarly vague statements, making it clear that thousands of employees remain unaccounted for and might be dead.

Meanwhile, the news from some trade center tenants was brighter. A spokesman for MassMutual Financial Group said all 598 employees of OppenheimerFunds Inc. were evacuated safely. OppenheimerFunds had several floors in the center’s south tower. The company said it was still processing transactions and would process them as soon as the markets reopen.

Another office complex near the World Trade Center, known as the World Financial Center, also was evacuated after Tuesday’s attack. Its tenants include Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., and American Express Co.

About 9,000 Merrill employees in that building and others in lower Manhattan were evacuated, and the company closed all its New York offices as well as many others nationwide on Wednesday.

Erick Bergquist, Laura Mandaro, Patrick Reilly, Lavonne Kuykendall, Lee Ann Gjertsen, and Michele Heller contributed to this story.

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