Thousands are sent home early by malls, banks, brokerages

Hotels near BWI swamped as stranded travelers seek rooms

"A general malaise'

Terrorism Strikes America

Maryland

September 12, 2001|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

Businesses in Baltimore were paralyzed yesterday as banks, brokerage houses and shopping malls closed early, sending thousands of employees home shortly after two hijacked planes slammed into New York's World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon in apparent terrorist attacks.

Many of the area's most prominent businesses, including T. Rowe Price Group Inc., Rouse Co., Constellation Energy Group, Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown Inc., Bank of America and Legg Mason Inc., let employees leave early.

"You had a general malaise that was taking place in terms of any kind of productivity," said J. Scott Wilfong, president and chief executive of the Maryland region for SunTrust Bank. "We just felt it was better for our employees to be with their families, especially with small children who were sent home from school."

Hotels near Baltimore-Washington International Airport were swamped with requests from people needing to extend their stays, and airlines worked to find rooms for stranded passengers.

The World Trade Center in Baltimore's Inner Harbor emptied and was guarded on Pratt Street by a phalanx of personnel from city and state law enforcement agencies.

The stock market and the Federal Reserve Board also shut down.

Employees flood streets

Employees began flooding the streets about 11 a.m., about two hours after the news media began reporting on the attacks in New York.

Legg Mason dismissed the 1,500 employees at its headquarters building on Light Street shortly before 11 a.m.

"Clearly, we have told people that they should take care of themselves first at this point, and if they need to go home they should go home," said Timothy Scheve, chief administrative officer at Legg Mason.

T. Rowe Price was in a "lockdown," meaning that no one could enter the building without an identification badge. Provident Bankshares Corp. closed 100 branches and dismissed employees.

"I came in here and it was all abuzz," said Peter M. Martin, chairman and chief executive of Provident. "It was total shock. People were stunned."

Columbia-based Rouse Co. and Bloomfield Hills, Mich.,-based Taubman Co., which are among the largest mall owners in the nation, shut down their shopping centers across the country.

Taubman closed its 29 malls, including, in Maryland, Marley Station in Glen Burnie and Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg.

Giant Food Inc., Maryland's largest supermarket chain, gave its employees the option of leaving about 10:30 a.m.. About a third of the employees at the Landover distribution center left early, said Barry F. Scher, vice president of public affairs for Giant. "We're asking people to stay at work to serve the customers," he said.

Many companies fielded skeleton crews with managers who stayed on to answer phones and conduct what business they could.

Little was accomplished early yesterday as many stunned employees huddled around television sets while others stared into computer screens or listened to radios to get the latest updates. Employees did whatever they could to catch bits of the news as it unfolded.

Della Rott, a manager at Regional Management, a property management firm on East Fayette Street, said the mood in her office was surreal. She heard news of the attacks shortly before 9 a.m. when she went to the first-floor lounge for a cup of coffee and saw the footage on television.

"Everyone just stood there in shock, total shock," she said. "We were just shaking our heads in total disbelief."

The firm has no televisions in its offices. Employees listened to radios to keep up with the news. Rott said she could barely conduct a job interview with a potential employee.

"Everyone had their radios on so loud, and we kept sticking our heads out of the office trying to listen," she said.

Other employees worried about friends who worked at the World Trade Center.

May Davis Group Inc., a small brokerage based in Baltimore, has employees on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center. Executives at the office here had no information about those employees.

`Really hitting home'

"Even though it [New York] is 180 miles away, it was really hitting home," said Andy Brooks, head trader at T. Rowe Price. "We know people that are in these buildings."

Mayo Shattuck, chairman of Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, was concerned for the safety of about 6,000 employees who work in two buildings, one of them directly across the street from the World Trade Center. The other, a low-lying building that is part of the World Trade Center, is adjacent to where the two towers stood.

"At this point, there is pretty good evidence that the evacuation went smoothly and most people should have been out by 10, before the collapse of the World Trade Center," Shattuck said.

Brooks said that as President Bush addressed the nation vowing to punish those responsible, the usually noisy trading room fell silent.

"You look around at your co-workers and people are crying and very upset," Brooks said. "Not a panic, but mad and hurt, and sort of that outpouring of emotion that you don't forget."

Sun staff writers June Arney, Julie Bell, Meredith Cohn, Kristine Henry and Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.

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