On warm Md. day, chill of fear spreads

Heightened alert empties schools, offices across state

Frantic calls to D.C., N.Y.

Terrorism Strikes America


September 12, 2001|By Michael James | Michael James,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 Baltimore-Washington International Airport 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.

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