Originally created 09/11/01

Augustans express shock, scramble for news



Augustans were reeling this morning from the news of terrorism attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

From the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge approaching Manhattan, Fred Norton said, he looked up and saw a fireball erupt from the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

"The bridge shook," said Mr. Norton, whose parents live in Augusta. Cars pulled over as people watched the flames in horror. There had already been a radio report of the first explosion, and Mr. Norton said he thought at first it was an accident.

"A guy standing next to me on the bridge said, 'I hope that's not what I think it is,"' Mr. Norton said by phone. He was actually able to make it to work at the law firm that includes David Boies, who represented former Vice President Al Gore during the tumultuous court hearings over last year's presidential election. Just 35 miles away from the tragic scene, he said, the people at the law firm were doing what everyone else was doing - calling around, trying to find out whether their relatives were OK.

"The first hour everyone was just trying to find out where everyone was," he said. A colleague kept a conference call open with his pregnant wife, afraid he wouldn't be able to reach her again if he hung up.

Appointments were being canceled, he said.

"Things aren't going back to normal for a while," Mr. Norton said.

Doug Elser, a 1987 graduate of John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, who worked on the 17th floor of the World Trade Center South Tower from 1998 to this year, said he has many close friends and former associates who still work there.

"I am scrambling to find as much information as I (can)," he said. "I have many close friends who are in that building today, one of my closest friends was there. He tends to come into work a little later in the day - I am praying that he wasn't at work yet," Mr. Elser said from his office in Atlanta.

"I don't really have any idea how I'm going to find out anything. The only thing I am hopeful of is that they were on the 17th floor, and they had time to evacuate before the building collapsed," he said.

His friend John Cashin, a 26-year-old former Augusta resident, had not arrived at work when the crash occurred.

"He works flex time and didn't have to go in until later. He was still at home when it happened," said his father, Robert Cashin, vice president of the property management and leasing department for Blanchard and Calhoun.

Mr. Cashin had just arrived at his Broad Street office in Augusta when he heard about the crash and called his son's home number.

Sun Francisco, calender clerk for Richmond County Superior Court, was on her way back from Fort Gordon this morning when she heard the news on the radio.

One of her first thoughts was of her cousin James R. Blackwell Jr., an expert on terrorism who she thought could be at work at the Pentagon.

"I don't know what to say - it's unsettling," Mrs. Francisco said. Unable to find a television at the municipal building, she turned on the radio and e-mailed her brother in North Carolina. Her cousin wasn't at work - he had retired, she said.

Now her thoughts have turned to war. "We have two sons," she said. Her stepson just signed up for the Marines.

Church R. Pardue, an Augusta attorney, said he was in shock when he heard the news.

"I'm am in total shock. It's outrageous," said Mr. Pardue, an Army infantry veteran of the Vietnam War. "What will happen now is we will have to take some definite action against the perpetrators of this atrocity."

But, he said with a note of caution, the U.S. government must make sure that it finds out who is responsible before taking that action.

Greg Alexander, vice president and branch manager at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter on Broad Street, said the entire office is huddled around the television, waiting to hear news of their fellow employees in New York.

Mr. Alexander goes to one of the towers several times a year on business.

"Our offices run from the 50th to the 70th floor up there so it looks like either way we've been hit," Mr. Alexander said.

"Everybody's terribly upset because we talk with these people every day and see them a couple of times a year. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We just hope they somehow got out in time."

"I was really shocked by the events that happened this morning," said Ronnie Young, Aiken County Council chairman. "All I know is what I've heard. It only stresses the point that our national defense should be better than it is."

He said the county isn't on alert, but "just monitoring the situation."

"I'm shocked along with everyone else and feeling a great deal of compassion for everyone involved at this point," said Mike Burkhart, outgoing director of Aiken County's Red Cross. "We're having to sit and await further information like everyone else. I'm sure the Red Cross in New York is doing everything it can with its forces, and the Red Cross in suburban Washington, too."