Lillian Fidlow of Cranford, N.J., was late for work at a downtown Manhattan insurance firm Tuesday.

She was on a train deep below the Hudson River around 9 a.m. en route to the World Trade Center stop, when the conductor announced that the famous towers were "on fire."

Within seconds, Fidlow's cell phone rang. Her husband Ben Fidlow, who commutes to his job blocks from the World Trade Center earlier than his wife, had arrived at the commuter train station at the towers at 8:40 a.m. He told his wife that a plane had smashed into the North Tower at 8:45 a.m.

As cell phones and phone lines crashed from overload, the bridges and tunnels that connect Manhattan to the rest of the world closed down. The Fidlows, like many families, lost contact for several hours. Back at home, Lillian waited frantically to hear from her husband, who was among thousands of New Yorkers who spent Tuesday morning literally running for their lives.

When the couple finally spoke, Lillian said, "His voice was shaking. He said the bodies were exploding as they hit the ground. I don't think he'll ever be the same ... A lot of people we know are probably dead."

With hundreds of thousands of people commuting to work in Manhattan from its suburbs -- New Jersey, Connecticut, upstate New York and Long Island -- the destruction of the World Trade Center reverberated far beyond the city. Authorities closed access routes into Manhattan as terrified families and friends awaited word of their loved ones' safety.

And for many families, it was the children who were left to worry about their parents. Lillian Fidlow rushed to retrieve her 3-year-old daughter from daycare, but thousands of other kids were stranded at schools awaiting news of their parents.

With casualty counts still in preliminary stages, it's impossible to know how many children lost a parent or were completely orphaned by Tuesday's attack yet. What is known is that many children did not have the fortune of timing and luck that spared the Fidlow's daughter both her parents.

In Oceanside, N.Y., on Long Island,  30 students were missing at least one parent or relative, New York Newsday reported Thursday.  In Rockville Center, N.Y., 27 students were missing relatives.

In Montclair, N.J., 16-20 parents were missing, Jeanine Genauer, communications director for the school district, said Thursday. Those figures were preliminary estimates, she said.

"We're getting more reports as parents call to say that their spouses are missing," Genauer said. "We don't have any confirmed deaths. We do know that individuals have lost parents," she said.

In Montville, N.J., reports put the number of missing parents at 6. In Bernards Twp., N.J., 12 students were reportedly missing parents or close relatives.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported Wednesday that New Jersey schools had taken measures Tuesday to care for children whose parents were either trapped in Manhattan or missing.

In the Millburn schools, staff members searched through student emergency cards for parents who worked in the city, while the school district of South Orange and Maplewood prepared to stay open into the night to provide a safe haven for students whose parents had not made it home.

Some students in Maplewood were glued to their television sets, hysterically dialing their parents on their cell phones.

"This is unparalleled in terms of my experience," James Corino, principal of Maplewood Middle School, told the Ledger.

Officials in Montclair, N.J., set up a telephone hotline and established a center at a middle school for children who were alone at home. Newark also kept open a half-dozen schools.

Guidance counselors at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School frantically phoned parents at work in New York City, leaving them messages to call the school.

"The kids with relatives in there, obviously, they wanted to know: 'Is Daddy okay?'" Principal Nancy Mahoney told the Ledger.

In Old Bridge, N.J., a student told the Ledger that her classmates were "hysterical."

The fear reached deep into western New Jersey as well, where students at the Blair Academy in Blairstown — near the Pennsylvania border — waited to hear from their parents at work in the Twin Towers.

"We have kids walking around numb," the school's headmaster, Chandler Hardwick said.

The Pentagon attack sent ripples of terror into the Maryland, Virginia and Delaware suburbs, where families were receiving quicker word on the death of loved ones than those in New York.

Hundreds of weeping people gathered Wednesday afternoon for a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington, Del., where Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli urged the congregation to pray for the ability to forgive the terrorists.

But Saltarelli conceded that forgiveness could not be expected to come easily. Though he had asked his staff to compose a written statement that included a final line about forgiveness, he could not yet bring himself to endorse it.

The final statement, issued Tuesday night, did not mention forgiveness, but instead read, "We also pray that the perpetrators of these deeds be brought to justice as we decry this horrible, cowardly outrage on so many of our fellow citizens and our country."

"It's not 100 percent there, I have to confess that," Saltarelli told the congregation Wednesday. He said Americans must struggle to follow the example of Jesus Christ who prayed, while being crucified, "'Father forgive them, they know not what they do.'"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.