Chattanooga touched by terror

September 12, 2001 | Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)

 | Page: A1 | Section: A1
1331 Words

From the closure of federal buildings, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport and Hamilton Place mall to panicked people waiting in lines for gasoline and groceries, local residents were shocked Tuesday by terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

"This is worse than Pearl Harbor. That was a military conflict, and this is a personal thing," said Ray Short, who recently moved here from Hawaii and owns a dry cleaning and laundry business in North Chattanooga.

Early Tuesday morning two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into the twin office towers of the World Trade Center in New York. The buildings collapsed about an hour later. Another hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Washington.

Federal courts in Chattanooga were closed Tuesday morning, and the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, like all others across the country, shut down on orders of the Federal Aviation Administration. Downtown streets near the Joel Solomon Federal Building were blocked, and Tennessee Valley Authority officials put all their power-generating facilities on heightened alert status.

Hamilton Place, the state's largest mall, and all other properties owned by CBL & Associates Properties Inc. were shut down Tuesday "out of respect" for victims of the attacks, spokesman John Martin said. The company also owns Walnut Square Mall in Dalton, Ga. The malls were to reopen today.

Northgate Mall in Hixson also was closed Tuesday.

Lines formed Tuesday afternoon at gasoline pumps and grocery stores throughout the Chattanooga area as residents reacted to the massive terrorist attacks. A number of area churches held prayer services Tuesday or scheduled them for today.

Schools stay in session

Area school officials stressed maintaining normality for students as the dramatic scenes in New York and Washington, D.C., unfolded.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jesse Register, in a letter given to students to take home Tuesday, said local and state officials "concur that there is no reason to change school schedules at this time."

Schools are remaining in close contact with county emergencies services, Dr. Register wrote. Parents of children in Hamilton County Schools were allowed to pick them up early. Tyner Academy principal Steve Ball said four of his students who reacted strongly to the tragedy left school in midmorning.

Raven Rollins, 16, one of the four, said she feared for her security with Chattanooga close to nuclear power plants and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

"I'm very afraid," she said. "I'd rather be at home with my mom and family if they (terrorists) hit us."

A bomb threat at Dalewood Middle School at around 1 p.m. Tuesday kept students in the parking lot at the school until normal dismissal at 2:15 p.m. The threat turned out to be a prank.

Several local private schools, including McCallie and Baylor, held assemblies to calm student concerns and to pray for victims of the bombings.

McCallie students spent the day watching television coverage and checking the Internet for updates on events. The school was eerily quiet as students grappled with the reality of such a large-scale tragedy.

"You hear your parents talking about when JFK was killed and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but it doesn't have significance, until now," said 17-year-old Hugh Huffaker as he watched news coverage in the student lounge. "I can see now why they remember it. This is horrible."

Military alert

At the Chattanooga airport, a blue pickup was pulled across the gate at the 241st Engineering Installation Squadron of the Tennessee Air National Guard. A uniformed guard carrying a rifle walked inside the fence. The doors at the Marine Corps Reserve building off Amnicola Highway were locked up tight.

"Nationwide, all military facilities are on a high state of alert," said Maj. Ken Jones, state public affairs officer of the Tennessee Air National Guard. "Part of that precautionary measure is to close gates and barricade them."

The 241st is responsible for engineering and installing communications equipment, he said.

Maj. Jones said it was too early to say whether the Tennessee Air National Guard would have a role to play as the investigation unfolds.

"The nation is pretty angry, and rightfully so," Maj. Jones said. "It's way, way early to talk about deployment. Obviously, the folks in New York are involved in the relief effort. Should they ask us, we'll help in any way we can."

Col. Donald Chamberlain, a local doctor and the medical squadron commander for the 130th West Virginia Air Lift, said the Air Force has not been formally put on alert.

Col. Chamberlain, who oversees the medical readiness of air crews, said he is contacting staff and personnel to make certain they are ready if mobilized.

"In the event there is a recall, I wanted to make sure all my people are accounted for," he said. "I did it after the Pentagon was attacked because it then seemed like a national threat. It might involve a significant response militarily."

Terror strikes home

The attacks touched a number of people in the Chattanooga area personally.

One former Chattanoogan was an eyewitnesses to the attack on the World Trade Center, while others waited anxiously to find out if loved ones were hurt.

"I have witnessed the entire landscape of New York change," said Melanie Young, who heads a public relations firm and lives in New York. "I came out of my Fifth Avenue office. It was like a horror film."

Miss Young said New Yorkers crowded the streets, screaming and crying. She said she saw one of the World Trade towers collapse.

"I got weak in the knees when I saw that building collapse," she said.

Hamilton County Sessions Court Clerk Sally Schultz was relieved when she heard from her sister, Lori Siener, several hours after the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

Ms. Siener, a flight attendant for American Airlines, was scheduled to be aboard a flight immediately following one of the two that crashed into the buildings.

"We were terrified," Ms. Schultz said. She and her parents, Ray and Shirley Siener, had tried unsuccessfully to find out from American Airlines if Lori Siener had been on the hijacked plane.

"My mother was keeping her wits, but my dad was really upset," Ms. Schultz said. "When my sister finally got in touch with us, my mother wept."

Susie McGinness of Lookout Mountain spent the morning in fear because she has daughters living in New York and in Washington, she said. She was relieved Tuesday morning to find out that her daughters both were safe.

Staying tuned

Local television and radio stations scrapped their normal programming Tuesday to provide news from their national affiliates, as well as several live "cut-ins" with local news angles in their coverage of the terrorist attacks.

"The format is out the window. We are not even playing music. If we do, it will be something patriotic," said Clay Hunnicutt, WUSY program director.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press published a four-page special section on the attacks early Tuesday afternoon.

All Clear Channel radio stations, which include WUSY, WKXJ, WSGC, WRXR, WLOV and WUUS locally, broadcast national ABC Radio news about the tragedy.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, WUSY disc jockeys Dave and Dexter opened the phone lines for "people to vent," Mr. Hunnicutt said.

Citadel Communications radio stations WGOW AM and FM, WOGT and WSKZ all carried national news for most of the day. Talk show host Jay Scott took calls from listeners, city officials and reporters on all local Citadel stations but WGOW-AM 1150, which kept the national news feed from ABC.

Within minutes of the first crash into the World Trade Center, local television stations WTVC, WDSI, WDEF and WRCB were broadcasting national news from their affiliates. Each station broke into that coverage with live local reports.

"My feeling is that national coverage is what most people want to see," WTVC news director Steve Hunsicker said.

WDSI-Fox 61 was the only local station that planned to do its regularly scheduled newscasts at 4 and 10 p.m.

Staff writers Beverly Carroll, Dick Cook, Clint Cooper, Barry Courter, Duane Gang, Jan Galletta, Karin Glendenning, Karen Hill, Emily McDonald and Judy Walton contributed to this story.

E-mail Gary Tanner at and Dorie Turner at

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