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Safety concerns send many home
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington brought a sudden end to the workday for thousands of people in Chicago.
Quaker Oats Co. closed its headquarters along the Chicago River at 10 a.m., sending 1,100 home. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the state's largest health insurer, evacuated its 3,000 employees as a "precautionary measure" from the company's 30-story headquarters at 300 E. Randolph St.
And business will not return to normal on Wednesday. Exelon Corp., parent of power company Commonwealth Edison, for one, "is not going to demand people come to work," said Gary Snodgrass, a senior vice president. "We want them to make sure their personal situation is safe and secure."
The disruption to U.S. businesses was widespread. Coca-Cola Co. closed its world headquarters in Atlanta, fearing that the beverage giant's high global profile could make it a terrorist target. Ford Motor Co. and the U.S. arm of DaimlerChrysler AG said they had closed all of their U.S. manufacturing plants, while Home Depot Inc. shut 20 stores in New York and Washington.
United Parcel Service Inc., which operates one of the country's biggest airlines, faced the prospect of missing overnight deliveries if the nation's skies remain closed.
For businesses that remained open on Tuesday, it was anything but a normal day. Sears, Roebuck and Co. didn't order any of its 860 department stores closed but said some stores were shut because the malls in which they're located closed.
Medical product giants Abbott Laboratories and Baxter International Inc. said they were taking unprecedented measures to get drugs and medical supplies to New York, Washington and other areas where they were needed.
Baxter sells IV solutions, blood bags and collection systems, and drugs like albumin, which is used to treat burn victims. Abbott sells everything from antibiotics and clotting agents, to diagnostic tests and nutritional supplements.
"Abbott was able to deliver supplies in trucks, supported by local police escorts, to hospitals in New York, New Jersey and Virginia," said Abbott spokeswoman Christy Beckmann. She said the company sent trucks from its North Chicago headquarters to its main East Coast distribution center in King of Prussia, Pa.
For most companies, the major worry was the safety of employees based in New York and Washington or those traveling on business.
At Lante Corp., a Chicago-based software company, executives scrambled to check on the whereabouts of 20 employees in its New York office, in midtown Manhattan, north of the World Trade Center.
"Most of them are stuck in Manhattan, and we're making arrangements for them to have hotel rooms or working to contact friends and business associates to find places for them to stay this evening," said communications director Rick Gray.
Northfield-based Kraft Foods Inc. booked hotel rooms for stranded travelers and also set up a 24-hour hotline for employees who needed to make other arrangements.
Meanwhile, some stranded business travelers tried to get home. Bill Perry, an executive at Chicago-based Participate.com Inc., was stuck in northern Virginia Tuesday morning, bracing for a 12-hour drive home in a rental car.
"If they told me tomorrow the system was up and running, I wouldn't get on a plane," he said. "I'd like to know how the hell they breached all the security measures before I get on an airplane again."
Kraft, Sears, Abbott and other companies suspended air travel for the next few days out of concern for employee safety.
Because of air travel restrictions, several area companies canceled meetings scheduled for either Tuesday or Wednesday. CNA Financial Corp. postponed a rights offering meeting, while Abbott Chief Executive Miles White called off a Tuesday night dinner in New York on the eve of Wednesday's Bear Stearns Healthcare conference. That conference also was canceled.