Originally created 09/11/01

Area shocked, goes on standby



Augusta officials were reacting to the news of this morning's multiple terrorism attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Marla Jones, a Fort Gordon spokeswoman, said that security has been tightened and that anyone going on the post should expect more checks and would have more difficulty gaining access to facilities.

A civilian employee said the post was in lock-down.

At Savannah River Site, Rick Ford, an Energy Department spokesman, said the emergency operations center has been activated and security has been increased at the federal nuclear-weapons site. Mr. Ford would not elaborate on what was being done.

Production at the tritium facility was stopped. The facility recycles tritium from dismantled nuclear weapons for use in the existing weapons stockpile.

Augusta's Disaster Medical Assistance Team was preparing to be activated this morning, according to Beth Nesmith, spokeswoman for the team, which coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

She said the team's 35 members were being notified and would be working with another team out of Atlanta. The team's leader, Dr. Sanford Hawkins, an emergency medicine specialist at Doctors Hospital, was packing his bags in preparation to go.

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered all flights grounded. At least three planes are on the ground at Augusta Regional Airport. A crowd of travelers sat in the waiting area, glued to the television. Many were talking on cellular phones, some speaking frantically on pay phones. The airport was working to return baggage to passengers whose flights were grounded.

"It's just tedious," said Kathryn Solee, a spokeswoman for Augusta Regional Airport.

She said the airport was helping the stranded travelers find hotel and rental-car accommodations.

"We just don't want anybody left without the means to do what they need to do," Ms. Solee said.

Security at the airport has been stepped up to its highest level. Cars were not allowed to park on the curb directly outside the terminal.

"We've implemented our highest security level," airport Director Ken Kraemer said. "We're restricting curb access. We've closed down a couple of the lanes of the entrance roadway and things of that nature."

Although the airport suspended all takeoffs, Augusta Regional officials expected to get planes looking for somewhere to land. By 11 a.m., three diverted aircraft had landed at Augusta Regional, including a flight headed to Nassau, Bahamas.

"The whole purpose here is to get all aircraft on the ground," Mr. Kraemer said. "The passengers are being accommodated as best they can - some of them have an unexpected layover in Augusta, Georgia.

"Right now, (stranded passengers are) busy at rental-car counters and at telephones, letting their families and loved ones probably know that they're safely on the ground."

He said airlines would likely continue on heightened alert once flights resume.

"When the system does come back in to place - maybe later this evening or maybe a day or two, who knows - but when it does come into place, I think travelers should plan on arriving at the airports early - extra early - to go through safety and security measures."

Augusta's municipal building and the law enforcement center have been staffed with marshal's officers and sheriff's deputies as a precautionary measure. They were placed there shortly after 10 a.m. They were tasked with stopping anyone with suspicious packages entering the building.

"This is just to make sure we don't have any problems here at our public building," said Steve Smith, civil court marshal. "We're kind of just now starting to put our security in place."

City officials, representatives from the local emergency management agency, law enforcement officers and airport representatives have called a meeting for 1 p.m. today on the eighth floor of the municipal building to go over precautionary safety measures for the city.

"It's so important that we reassure people at this point," said Mayor Bob Young. "Naturally, they're extremely upset. We're not in a position to respond to anything. The appropriate thing to do is to look at your emergency response system."

The Georgia State Patrol helicopter scheduled to arrive at a 911 Appreciation Day was called back. The sheriff's department's Hazard Materials vehicle and canine units also were diverted from today's event in order to stay on active-response mode.

The Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs saw the news and went to "heightened security," said spokeswoman Rosalie Bell.

"We're checking all the badges, making sure all the people coming through are patients," she said. Services will continue, however.

Medical College of Georgia turned on televisions around campus so students and staff could follow the news but continued to operate under heightened security as well, said President Daniel W. Rahn.

"I think everyone is simply just shocked at this act of terrorism," Dr. Rahn said. "Just shocked."

There is an emergency response plan in place but mid-morning there did not seem to be a need to activate it, Dr. Rahn said.

Pam Tucker, Columbia County emergency services director, said there currently is no state of emergency. However, officials are keeping in touch with state authorities in case such an order is given.

"Right now, we're on standby for any alert that might come down," she said. "We're just waiting and keeping an eye on the situation."

Mrs. Tucker said she was in a meeting with county officials this morning when she heard of the explosions.

"When we heard the news, we had a prayer for all of the people hurt," she said. "This has been tragic to us. It's been really hard for us to think that anything like this has happened our country.

"This is the worst national crisis that this country has faced," Mrs. Tucker said.

Throughout Columbia County, government authorities are continuing business as usual, and the sheriff's office has not issued alarms for a state of emergency.

But school officials are heightening security, advising county schools to cancel all extracurricular activities for the afternoon.

"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."

Today's events

Shortly before 9 a.m., an airliner crashes into the upper floors of one World Trade Center tower, followed about 18 minutes later by a similar crash into the second tower. Both towers eventually collapse.

At a school in Sarasota, Fla., President Bush is reading to children in a classroom at 9:05 a.m. when chief of staff Andrew Card whispers into his ear. The president briefly turns somber before he resumed reading. He addresses the tragedy about a half-hour later, saying, "Today we've had a national tragedy."

Explosions rock the Pentagon, with smoke coming from the roof.

The Federal Aviation Administration orders all departing flights canceled nationwide and any planes already in the air to land at the nearest airport.

A short time later, about 10 a.m., a large plane believed to be a 747 jumbo jet crashes just north of the Somerset County Airport, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. United Airlines confirms its flight from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco crashed.

American Airlines reports that its Flight 11, hijacked after takeoff from Boston en route to Los Angeles, is one that hit the Trade Center. American says it has "lost" two aircraft - Flight 11, with 92 people aboard, and Flight 77 from Washington to Los Angeles, carrying 64 people.

The departments of Justice, State, Treasury and Defense are ordered evacuated, as are the Capitol and the White House.

The U.S. financial markets come to a halt.

Security is beefed up at U.S. installations nationwide.