On warm Md. day, chill of fear spreads

Sun Staff

The ripples of terror spread throughout Maryland yesterday as the unbelievable sank in, a realization that sent horrified parents flocking to get their children from schools, state officials scrambling to move government out of Annapolis, and police with submachine guns patrolling around downtown Baltimore's World Trade Center.

For millions of Marylanders, the unprecedented terrorist attacks in New York and outside Washington left apocalyptic images of burning buildings in their minds, and left many wondering what today will bring.

"This is turning the world upside down as we know it," said Donald R. Howell of Howard County, who heads a nonprofit agency that works with rescue workers and others in the wake of disasters. "This will traumatize the nation like no other event has in our recent history. We're seeing it as it happens."

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening took the extraordinary step of evacuating government offices in Annapolis, including the State House, and the World Trade Center at the Inner Harbor because of fears that they could be terrorist targets.

In Baltimore, Mayor Martin O'Malley said city officials were on the highest state of alert in decades, with all available city police officers called to duty. Shocked workers and residents poured out of downtown before midday, clogging city streets and area highways, while people rushed to pick up their children from school and awaited calls from family or friends in New York and Washington.

"We ask people to act calmly, and go home and hug your kids, and pray for the people of New York," O'Malley said.

Throughout the state, a blend of disbelief and fear hit many residents, who were deluged with television and radio accounts of hijacked planes, nameless bodies and faceless terrorists.

Confusion disrupted traffic and business downtown to such an extent that desperate travelers outside a pandemonium-filled Penn Station offered hundreds of dollars to cab drivers to get them out of the city.

A few U.S. flags were lowered to half-staff by midafternoon, as people struggled to grasp the enormity of the morning's events. Linthicum resident Pat Breidenbaugh, making a purchase at the counter of Panera Bread in Pasadena, said her 24-year-old daughter called her after hearing of the attacks.

"She has a 5-month-old daughter and said, 'I'm looking into her eyes, and I can't believe we brought this baby into such a crazy world,'" Breidenbaugh said.

Glendening said last night that a state of emergency will remain in effect for at least two days, allowing Maryland to share emergency resources with neighboring states and New York. But he urged Marylanders to "move forward" and said state government offices would reopen today.

"We will return to full work," Glendening said. "I call upon Marylanders to stay calm, to offer their prayers, to offer their support in any way possible."

The governor said he would allow local school systems to decide individually whether to reopen.

Public and private schools across the region sent droves of students home early yesterday. About 200,000 students were released early in the Baltimore and Baltimore County systems. Classes also were canceled in neighboring Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Prince George's and Harford counties.

At least one school system, Anne Arundel County, has decided to close today.

At Towson High, students lined up at the school's guidance office to make calls to friends and family living and working in New York.

"Why is there a need to hurt innocent people?" asked Nina L. Cortez, a 16-year-old junior. "This is terrifying."

By 11:30 in the morning, dozens of jittery parents were arriving at Dulaney High School in Timonium to retrieve their children. Some were trembling and tearful as they crowded into the main office to ask that their children be summoned from class so they could go home.

Military installations in the region were on high alert as state, local and federal buildings shut down, allowing thousands of government workers to pick their children up from school or take in the devastating effects of the day's events.

Officers with rifles and bomb-sniffing dogs were on guard outside Baltimore police headquarters and other city landmarks, and they, too, were at a loss to understand what was happening.

"This is a scary day," said Baltimore Police Detective Chuck Bealefeld, 38, as he stood outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Courthouse, which had just been evacuated. "I never thought any of us would ever see something like this hitting the world. We are at war. I don't know with who, but we went to war several hours ago."

Thousands of frustrated travelers were stranded at after federal aviation officials canceled all commercial flights, at least until noon today. Travelers lined up at pay phones and got on their cellular phones, frantically trying to reach relatives or grab any available rental cars or hotel rooms.

Many travelers attempting to reach their destination by a rental car were turned away. Alamo had about 50 people lining up at the counters and calling on the phones, but the business had run out of cars, said Dale Sauble, a rental agent.

Others hurried to get home from downtown Baltimore, making Calvert Street look like rush hour in the middle of the workday. Matthew Bennett, a lawyer, said he wanted to wait for a phone call from his brother, a college student in New York.

"I am just going to go home and sit by the phone until I hear from him," Bennett said. "It's a total portent of evil."

Two hours after the first attack in New York, Glendening ordered the evacuation of the Maryland State House in Annapolis and the World Trade Center in Baltimore after receiving what he called "credible" information that they could be attacked.

The action came when an unidentified man, who said he was a retired official with a federal security agency, called the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown about 11 a.m., a state government source said.

The caller warned that both sites were on a list of 11 potential targets his agency received last month, state government sources said. The Pentagon and the World Trade Center were also on the list, the source said.

Last night, officials said the call was a hoax and announced the arrest of a suspect.

Glendening declared a state of emergency shortly after 11 a.m., closing all state offices and sending all nonessential state workers home. He also gave local boards of education authority to close public schools early.

At 5:15 p.m., state officials decided that a sweep of the State House complex showed it was clear, and Glendening announced that he was heading back to Annapolis.

The governor said he had spoken with New York Gov. George E. Pataki, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams to offer the use of Maryland resources.

Included in the help extended is the activation of the USS Comfort, a naval hospital ship docked off Locust Point. The ship will be used, state officials said, to carry blood, medical supplies and some medical personnel to New York. The decision was made after all air traffic was shut down nationwide.

O'Malley was en route to New York to spend a day campaigning for his brother, Patrick O'Malley, a candidate for a New York City Council seat, when he got word of the disaster and headed back to Baltimore.

O'Malley returned to the city about 11:15 a.m. and was immediately briefed by police Commissioner Edward T. Norris and department heads.

"This is just a horrendous day for our country, just devastating," O'Malley said. "What has happened in New York is unspeakable."

Across the region, many people felt drawn to somehow help. Hundreds lined up to donate blood or showed up at churches to pray. Hospital and emergency workers shifted into high gear.

At St. Mary's Church in Annapolis, the Rev. Denis Sweeney had prepared a special noon Mass to coincide with the United Nations declaration of yesterday as an international day of peace. Sweeney had planned to ask schoolchildren to stop by at noon and pray for peace.

Instead, he found a church full of red-eyed parents and children shocked and weeping.

"You have no answers and you are full of emotions," Sweeney said. "The Lord has asked us to love our enemies, but at a time like this, it isn't easy."

After the service, a few parishioners stayed to pray, including Gail Lewis of Annapolis, who knelt at the altar railing. "There was nowhere else to go but here," she said, her voice soft and full of emotion.

The Red Cross Bright Oaks office on Emmorton Road in Bel Air was packed with blood donors by late morning. Sandra Tracy, a retired teacher from Aberdeen, was among the early arrivals.

"People in this kind of situation have to do something," Tracy said. "They found out this was something they could do."

In Baltimore, people were lining up to offer blood. At Union Memorial Hospital, B.J. Stinnette was working swiftly and mechanically. Around her, the small, windowless room that serves as the hospital's blood bank swarmed with nurses and technicians.

Stinnette and a second technician drew blood. A third stacked plastic pouches swollen with blood. A fourth rushed in with orange juice and cookies. "Next!" someone would call over the blare of the television.

As news of what happened spread, a line began to form at the hospital. By late morning, more than 300 people had filled the auditorium and were spilling into the halls. Most were students from nearby , with a smattering of hospital employees and local businessmen.

"It's the only thing we can do," said Dennis Booth, a civil engineering student from Jamaica as he filled out paperwork.

By noon, the wait was about three hours. As hospital employees rushed to set up a second, makeshift blood bank, potential donors were urged to leave their names and numbers and return home.

"We'll be able to call you when your turn comes up," said Brad Chambers, vice president of operations. "We'll aim to draw about 100 units today. We'll prioritize by blood type, with the universal type O negative going first."

Bayview Medical Center and all of Johns Hopkins Hospital went on full emergency alert to prepare for the possible arrival of burn victims from either Washington or New York. Bayview, the regional burn center for the mid-Atlantic states, rushed to make room for attack victims in the 20-bed center. But by evening, hospital officials had not been notified of any patients en route.

It was a day of high emotions mixed with strange normality. There was an eerie quiet by midafternoon around Baltimore's Inner Harbor, presumably because many downtown workers went home.

A sign outside a Jiffy Lube on York Road read: "Closed in Memory of America's Tragedy."

But in Annapolis, primary elections for city offices continued as scheduled, despite closed downtown roads and government buildings. At the Annapolis election office, judges and election board members sat in a conference room watching news coverage on television.

"It is such a violent situation, and here we are in a little city voting for a mayor," said Mary Lee Schab, 84, an at-large election judge. Schab said she was glad the election went on. "It keeps a semblance of normalcy."

Just after 11 a.m., Mike Sicher's phone rang at his White Marsh office. It was his brother, John D. Sicher, a New York businessman who was calling from the 59th Street Bridge to say that he was all right.

"He called me from the apex of the bridge and said he was in an absolute state of shock looking at the skyline of New York on this crystal clear morning with a deep blue sky and seeing the World Trade Center towers gone," Mike Sicher said.

In Catonsville, Niki Lee waited anxiously for word from her brother, John Albert, who works on Wall Street. Lee tried repeatedly to reach him on his cell phone, all without success. It wasn't until almost noon -- more than three hours after the first airliner crash -- that she received good news in an e-mail from her father in Hawaii.

Albert had called their father. The message: "Close, but OK."

Some looked for protection in the aftermath of the morning attacks, and gun shop managers reported an increase in ammunition sales.

Larry Dunn, manager of Bay Country Guns Inc. in Annapolis, said about 20 gun owners poured into the shop yesterday morning to stock up on ammunition. Dunn said he usually serves only five customers in a day.

"People are concerned about civil unrest breaking out, and they want to protect their families," Dunn said as he restocked the shelves. "They don't know what's going to happen next. They don't know if it's going to continue and get worse."

Talk of the attack was everywhere, including The Block in Baltimore.

As Mark Venn, 36 , who drives a truck for Frederick P. Winner, wheeled several cases of vodka into the Hippo Lounge, he stopped on East Eager Street to talk with Robert Corcoran, 28, a delivery man for National Distributing who was delivering a quarter-keg of beer to the same establishment.

"How can they fly a plane into the Pentagon and not get blown out of the sky?" Venn said, as Corcoran nodded in agreement. "I was in Desert Storm, I hope I don't have to go back," Venn said. As he wheeled his load across Eager Street, he said, "These are crazy days."

The steps and benches at the Annapolis City Dock, usually full on sunny days with a lunchtime crowd and their takeout food, were empty except for three elderly women visiting from Edenwald, an assisted-living community in Towson.

Their bus driver had been turned back when he tried to drop them at the State House for a tour and had taken them downtown instead. A tour of the Naval Academy had been canceled, too. The women found the giant gates locked and patrolled by armed Marines. The friends were waiting for the bus to return and pick them up.

"It reminds me of Pearl Harbor," said Kay Blazek, who was a teen-ager when World War II began. "I remember where I was when I heard about that. And I will remember this. There was no doubt who did it at Pearl Harbor. I don't feel that way now."

Sun staff writers Gail Gibson, Will Englund, Tim Craig, Michael Dresser, David Michael Ettlin, Susan Reimer, Alec MacGillis, Michael Scarcella, Todd Richissin, Rob Kasper, Allison Klein, Lane Harvey Brown, David Nitkin, Johnathon E. Briggs, Laura Cadiz, Rona Kobell, John Woestendiek, Fred Rasmussen and Amanda Crawford contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World