Baltimore travelers get left in the lurch

Planes, trains, buses in metro area halted, some traffic rerouted

Terrorism Strikes America

Maryland

September 12, 2001|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The terrorist attacks yesterday brought chaos to Maryland's transportation system, with flights and trains cancelled, highways jammed, streets blocked, bus stations closed, passengers stranded and tempers boiling.

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, thousands of people scrambled to find taxis to local hotels when 600 flights were grounded.

"I'm very scared. I'm just trying to stay calm. I don't know what to do," said Gelina Gully of San Francisco, who couldn't find her luggage with her vital kidney transplant medication when her flight home was canceled.

Eldin Williams of Newark, N.J., was stranded at BWI en route to a vacation in the tropics. "Where am I? In Maryland?" he asked. "I should be in Jamaica now."

In downtown Baltimore, police closed more than a dozen intersections and part of Interstate 83 to keep potential terrorists away from government buildings, which were guarded by officers wielding automatic weapons.

Traffic on the Washington and Baltimore beltways was jammed before noon as federal agencies and other employers sent thousands of workers home early and schools were let out.

"There was a lot of confusion early on, but most of it cleared," said State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar.

At Penn Station in Baltimore, though, more than 300 stranded train passengers lined up at the taxi stand, a few crying, others shouting, most trying to keep up on the news via cell phones.

"We don't know what these terrorists are going to do next," said Melvin Tucker, a 31-year-old software engineer from Mitchellville, who waited in line.

Inside the station, a message was displayed in large yellow letters: "NO TRAIN SERVICE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE."

Cash machines were not working. People were lined up behind the pay phones. Passengers were wandering around, asking security guards where they could sleep. Police officers from the bomb squad were called in to check a piece of luggage that had been left on a train, but no bomb was found.

The manager of the taxi stand in front of the station gathered passengers into groups of twos and threes so they could split hefty fares to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, Delaware and Virginia. "We have a cab to Philly! Anyone else going to Philly?" the manager shouted. "Anyone else going to Trenton, New Jersey? Washington?"

A heated argument erupted when a cell phone company exective from Washington claimed that a taxi driver tried to gouge him for $150 for a ride back home that he thought should cost about $64.

"Nobody knows what's going on here. Streets are closed, police are everywhere with machine guns. It's like a war zone in downtown Baltimore," said Steven Douglas, general manager of Cellhire USA. He was traveling from Washington to a meeting in New York City when his train was halted in Baltimore.

Milosava Vlaisavjevic, a 52-year-old Croatian war refugee who fled to New York City two years ago to avoid fighting in the former Yugoslavia, found herself stranded in Baltimore and unable to get back to her home.

"We don't know what we're going to do or where we're going to go," said her friend and translator, Maria Jovanovic, a 55-year-old hairdresser. "We're out on the street, no place for shelter. It's like we're back in the war in Yugoslavia."

Allan Rosenthal, 76, a retired Tiffany & Co. product design manager from Bronxville, N.Y., and his wife, Marsha, were left in Baltimore while traveling to the funeral of his wife's uncle at Arlington National Cemetery. "This just boggles the mind. The only parallel I can think of is the attack on Pearl Harbor, which also caught everyone by surprise," he said.

Brenda Eberhardy, a 33-year-old financial analyst from Jacksonville., Fla., wept in frustration as she stood in line with hat in hand. She had come to the Baltimore Convention Center to attend a conference, but it was canceled. She said the lobby of her hotel, the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott, was packed with frantic conventiongoers, some of whom were terrified that the Inner Harbor might be the next target for terrorists.

"I got a call from a friend this morning, who said, `Pack. Run. Get out of the city," said Eberhardy. "I'm trying to get out. But when I took a taxi down to the train station, I learned that all the trains were canceled. I don't want to go back to the Inner Harbor."

By 2:30 p.m. Amtrak had resumed service but the station was almost empty, most passengers having left already to find lodging or make other travel arrangements. Trains are expected to run on a normal schedule today, said Cecilia Cummings, an Amtrak spokeswoman.

Greyhound bus service likewise was halted for several hours, but started running again by late afternoon. MARC commuter rail service resumed about 3:30 p.m. after being suspended much of the day, and will run on a reduced holiday schedule today. Baltimore's light rail, metro and bus system will operate on a normal schedule today. Commuter bus service to downtown Washington, however, will be limited.

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