When an earthquake rips through New York City, skyscrapers topple, the Statue of Liberty falls, concrete crumbles and the lives of four families are changed forever.
Dori Thorell, a woman in her thirties, searches among the rubble of a private school for her 8-year-old son, Danny, who walks with a limp. Her husband, Sam, is once again out of town, supposedly on a business trip. Evie Lincoln, a 28-year-old African American lawyer, who is also the mayor's daughter, is trapped in the subway with her 36-year-old client, Joshua. Evie believes in the innocence of the soft-spoken man, who is accused of killing his invalid wife. At Abysinnian Baptist Church in Harlem, the mayor's mother, Rose Lincoln, is injured and stuck with a wayward 14-year-old boy named Nonamey.
On her way back from asking her wealthy father, Frank, for money to support her ballet dancing career, 20-year-old Diane Agostini finds herself trapped in a cab with the driver, a recent 22-year-old Russian immigrant named Nichola Kanezevich. Diane tries to get back to her father after the earthquake, but he suffers a heart attack and dies in her arms. Diane and Nichola form a bond as he comforts her.
The 47-year-old police chief, Thomas Ahearn, runs outside to see the heart-rending sight of earthquake victims lying in the streets. A newscaster, Jillian, reports that it's the worse natural disaster in modern history. There are fires everywhere, people are gathered in Central Park and New York City is declared a Federal disaster area. Though Ahearn has always been at odds with Mayor Bruce Lincoln, they agree to a truce and the Mayor appoints Ahearn to lead the rescue effort. However, Ahearn is wracked with sadness when his 15-year-old daughter, Christine, dies after her school building collapses.
Dori finally locates her son, who is hanging from a ledge, and she is able to save him with the help of the police. People trapped in the subway have been underground for more than a day and Joshua convinces the group that he has found the way out. Evie witnesses his true nature, as Joshua becomes controlling and hot-tempered. When they are rescued, Evie begins to believe that her gut instinct about Joshua being innocent may indeed be incorrect.
Meanwhile, Mayor Lincoln receives word that his mother has been taken to the hospital with serious injuries. By the time he arrives there, Rose has died. Nonamey, the young boy who had tried to save her, shares an emotional moment with the Mayor.
Two months later, with the pain beginning to subside for missing loved ones, the Mayor makes a statement to the press that the city is embarking on a mission to rebuild. In the bay, construction crews work with massive cranes, as the Statue of Liberty rises out of the water.
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