The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia on September 12, 2001 · 107
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The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia · 107

Atlanta, Georgia
Issue Date:
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
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AMERICA UNDER ATTACK: TERROR IN THE SKIES SCENE AT HARTSFIELD World's busiest goes ouiet Total shutdown the first ever as national aviation system halts By ALAN JUDD It normally is the nation's busiest airport. On Tuesday, it was a place of unnatural calm. Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, usually bustling with 210,000 people on 2,500 flights every day, fell all but silent late Tuesday. On a day of unprecedented domestic terrorism, authorities halted all air traffic in the morning, then evacuated Hartsfield on TUesday night to check for bombs. The airport was not expected to reopen until noon. "It's like we're going to cleanse the airport to be doubly sure there aren't any problems," said Deputy Chief Wesley Derrick of the Atlanta police. "It's just a precaution." The evacuation capped a day like no other at Hartsfield. It was so quiet that crickets could be heard chirping outside the main terminal. Inside, thousands of stranded travelers crowded around television sets much of the day, intently watching the horrific images in silence. They were united in muted shock. "It gives you chills," said traveler Alex Sourer of the Congo. "It makes you sweaty. It makes you sick." Perhaps more at Hartsfield than anywhere else in Atlanta, the attacks with hijacked airliners in New York and Washington hit home, and hit hard. "It could have been me on one of those planes," said T.J. Hurley of Vinings, echoing the anxiety of many other travelers. "I'd like to find out why why are you going after innocent people? They were just trying to earn a living." The airport's closure, the first in its 76-year history, came after federal officials shut down the nation's aviation system another first. Takeoffs stopped at 9:23 a.m., but planes continued to land at Hartsfield for about another hour, said Kathleen Bergen, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Atlanta. At the moment of the shutdown, about 50 takeoffs and landings were scheduled, and 30,000 people were in the air headed for Atlanta, said Ben DeCosta, Hartsfield's general manager. "This is unprecedented in Hartsfield's history," DeCosta said during a midday briefing for reporters. "Everything we are doing here today we will do for the first time." Police led bomb-sniffing dogs through the concourses in the morning as officials evacuated gate areas. Airlines found accommodations for thousands of travelers. Continental gate agent Susan Golden helped find beds for 18 stranded travelers she rounded up at the airport Others swamped the taxicab line outside the main terminal and the rental car desks inside. One company, Thrifty, even rented out 22 moving vans to travelers desperate to reach their destinations. Atlanta police, assisted by officers from Clayton County and College Park, increased security inside and outside the airport Authorities allowed motorists to enter the airport to pick up travelers. But MARTA police forced passengers on the south line to get off at College Park, one stop before the ' airport, unless they had an employee ID from Hartsfield. To speed the airport's evacuation, officials suspended fares on MARTA trains leaving Hartsfield. ; ; P f ' - ' " " T. wji uu .i m 6 ''''"'-v.., . ;:''-. Smww-4 f v: .. ... ' . f I '''V' '"'V ' '' ; 'mmsm ' J' ', i'.-.'.i V ' :" y 'C':..'' H Hf I V:- . ...... r .. i -t . ,j V - ; .: , RICH ADDICKS Staff Atlanta police officers shepherd bomb-snlfflng dogs as Hartsfield International Airport went on full security alert Tuesday. on the tarmac when the pilot announced there had been a terrorist attack that had grounded air traffic. "When I was on the plane, I kept thinking that once I was off, I would be OK," Baker said. "But is it any safer to be in this airport?" Such feelings might explain why even on Hartsfield's quietest day, a steady stream of travelers sought refuge in the airport's most tranquil spot: the Interfaith Chapel in a corridor off the atrium. Some knelt and said silent prayers. Others sat and reflected. Many shared their prayers in a guest book: "To ask for God's protection," one entry said. "To pray for the souls of the dead," read another. "To pray for America. Staff writers Gary Hendricks, Mark Bixler, Mon1 Basu, Kate Alexander and Stephania Davis contributed to this report. p. .i i : i . "i". 4':' i- . vj . rflr W i I ' PHIL SKINNER Staff Continental Airlines employee Susan Golden talks with some of the 18 travelers stranded at Hartsfield International Airport that she brought to her home in Peachtree City. Friends and church members then took most of them home for the night. The airport's closure left many travelers seeking alternatives. But the main Greyhound bus terminal downtown on Forsyth Street also shut down, because it is close to several federal office buildings. Still, close to 200 stranded airline passengers showed up at the bus station. Among them were Tami Fisher and Jennifer Miller, who live in the Virginia suburbs of Washingtoa They were flying to Austin, Texas, when the pilot announced they were making an emergency landing in Atlanta. "We were in the air when they bombed everything," Fisher said. "They said there was terrorist activity and they had to make an emergency landing," Miller said. r Of. ""-''! ' Wife' M n I T ' 1 ) , . . .. V ' f ' " i i iwA - PHIL SKINNER Staff One of the last travelers to leave before Hartsfield International Airport closed at 11 p.m. Tuesday Is Freddy Webbe, trying to reach a friend driving up from Gainesville, Fla., to get him when all commercial flights were canceled nationally. The crew did not explain to passengers the extent of the terrorist attack until the plane was safely on the ground. Later, Fisher and Miller sat on the bus terminal floor with their baggage. Fisher clutched her cellphone. She said her stepmother works at the Pentagon, the site of one of the attacks. Throughout Tuesday, passengers whose flights were canceled until at least noon today gathered around any television set that offered news of the day's tragedies. They spoke in whispers, or not at all, clasping their hands to their chins as they absorbed the images of destruction. Inside Houlihan's restaurant, Brenda Martinez hugged a white Delta pillow as she watched New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on television. "It's emotional," the Brooklyn resident said, losing a battle to hold back tears, "very emotional. My home faces the World Trade Center. I looked at it every day from my window." William Lockwood and his wife, Elizabeth, settled into a black love seat in the atrium. They are 78 years old, from Hender-sonville, N.C., and were bound for Istanbul, Turkey, by way of New York. The attack canceled their vacation, and William Lock-wood said he hoped the United States strikes back after determining who is to blame. "I don't think anyone in the United States, any American citizen, would want to show any mercy," Lockwood said. The events of the day left Nicole Rommel of Hartford, Conn., unsure about air travel. She and her fiance, Byron Conlogue, were headed to Las Vegas to get married on Wednesday when they were grounded in Atlanta. Rommel had never flown before. "I won't ever get on an airplane again," she said, stretched out on the atrium floor. "Next time we'll drive." Nearby, Mary Jo Baker had her own doubts. Baker, of San Antonio, climbed atop an empty shoeshine chair, lucky to get a seat Her plane from Atlanta to Orlando was u RICH ADDICKS Staff A Hartsfield flight board tells the story: All flights were canceled at Hartsfield, as across the country. HARTSFIELD FACTS Shutting down Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport had a profound impact on thousands of travelers from around the country. Here are some pertinent facts about Hartsfield: Number of passengers who travel through Hartsfield daily. 210,000 Number of flights scheduled daily: 2,500 Number of passengers headed to Hartsfield when traffic was stopped: 30,000 Number of inbound planes when the hijackings occurred: 45 Number of passengers stranded in airport overnight: 1,500 Source: Hartsfield International Airport r

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