SPECIAL SECTION (Sept. 11, 2001): Local residents shocked at events

September 6, 2006 

Asbury Hoke of Rock Hill stared at his television set Tuesday morning, and his mind flashed back to Pearl Harbor. A survivor of the attack in 1941, Hoke knows the chaos of surprise attack, the smell of burning flesh, the frantic despair, the explosions and the unheard screams that tens of thousands of American families watched on their television screens Tuesday as terrorism ripped New York and Washington and terrified the world.

"At least then we thought we knew who the enemy was, and we grabbed for something to fight with," Hoke said. "But this, there is no fighting back. There is no enemy in the air. The enemy is a shadow, and these thousands of people in those buildings and on those planes just were fighting to survive."

York, Chester, and Lancaster counties froze in time after 8:45 this morning, shocked like the rest of America as hijacked planes turned New York's skyline, the Pentagon and the nation's airspace into swirling maelstroms of death and fear.

Businesses stopped in their tracks. Crowds elbowed in front of television sets at restaurants and schools and offices; students cried and wondered what hell has been wrought in what was, just minutes before, a tranquil world.

Who could do such a thing, they asked through their tears? And why, why kill what will eventually be thousands? And many people talked openly of revenge and retribution for the worst attack to hit America since Pearl Harbor.

In Lancaster, a teary Johannes Tromp struggled with the news that many of his former co-workers at the World Trade Center could be hurt or dead.

Tromp, who owns Kilburnie, the Inn at Craig Farm, was general manager for about seven years at two restaurants and a bar on the 106th and 107th floor of the No. 1 tower.

He was in the basement in the building when it was bombed in 1993 and was 120 yards from the explosion that killed an accountant he once worked with.

"It's frustrating to see all those faces in front of me and not know if they are OK or not OK," he said. "I know hundreds of people personally. I'm in shock."

The somber lunch crowd at Midtown Sundries in Rock Hill stared in disbelief as the news blared from the television sets around the bar. Plain and simple, people were angry.

"Absolute shock and disbelief, that is the only way to sum it up. You feel like you want to retaliate, but against who?" said a visibly upset Tom Clark of Rock Hill. "There will be a call for revenge against whoever did this."

At Winthrop University, students and staff crowded around two televisions in Dinkins Student Center.

"This makes me mad. Who do they think they are, doing this to us?" said Winthrop sophomore Bobby Ravenscraft.

Many cried while others waited in line for the phone to call family and friends in New York and Washington. Some said they feared the assaults could move south.

"I feel like I want to go home and bury myself in a hole," said Kristine Wood. "It started in New York and then Washington then Pittsburgh. I don't trust anybody."

In schools throughout York, Chester and Lancaster counties, administrators tried to keep emotions calm. In Rock Hill high schools, many students were watching news coverage. Whether elementary schoolers were allowed to watch was up to each school's principal.

"There hasn't been any edict from the district office, but I wouldn't be surprised for elementary schools not to be watching," said Rock Hill School District spokeswoman Elaine Baker. "Young children can panic quickly. They can't see the difference between a jet coming down on a building and it taking down a school."

Many school districts reported a few parents picking their children up early.

Local response

The York County Emergency Operations Center staff was preparing for an open house for its 911 command center when the calls started coming in.

"It just snowballed from there," said 911 worker Jeanne Moore, who was in the EOC office blowing up balloons for the event when her babysitter called to say that a plane had rammed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

Emergency Management Director Cotton Howell pulled his staff together and started calling in representatives of the various local emergency agencies: the Rock Hill Police Department, the York County Sheriff's Office, the Fire Marshal's Office and the FBI.

In the emergency operations room in the basement of City Hall around 10:30 a.m., Howell debriefed the somber crowd.

"We have no reason to think there's a local threat," Howell said, stressing the importance of focusing on facts, not rumors.

The York County Sheriff's Office went on alert this morning, but Sheriff Bruce Bryant said he had no reason to believe York County was in any danger.

"We have no indication that we should not feel safe," Bryant said. He said events like today's make the office sit back and assess its preparedness.

"We feel like we're as prepared as we can be under the circumstances," he said.

In a work room at the Chester County Sheriff's Office, a constant stream of city and county officers came in an out, trying to get the latest news from TV.

"Watching this just makes you want to cry," said Magistrate Dianne Moore.

For state Rep. Becky Meacham-Richardson, R-Fort Mill, the tragedy comes too close to home. Meacham-Richardson has a son, Billy, who lives in Albany and frequently make trips to the city.

"I'm glad he wasn't in the city today," said a shaken Meacham-Richardson. "We're just being shocked minute by minute. It's the worst thing that I've ever encountered."

Duke Energy's three nuclear power plants were on heightened alert status, imposed first by the company and later mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Randy Wheeless, spokesman.

The company is taking extra precautions and is prohibiting public access, including the nature trail at the Catawba Nuclear Power Station, Wheeless said.

The company has beefed up security around its three facilities on Lake Wylie, at McGuire in north Charlotte and at Oconee in Seneca.

Managers at the Charlotte headquarters, where about 5,000 people are employed, were told earlier today they could dismiss non-essential employees. The company anticipates normal operations Wednesday, Wheeless said.

More shock around the area

Officials with Springs Industries checked on 40 employees in their New York office at West 40th Street, about 30 blocks from the World Trade Center.

"One of our building managers was on the roof when he saw the second tower collapse," said Ted Matthews, a Springs spokesman in Fort Mill. "They're very upset. One of our associates has a husband who works in the financial district. We did confirm that he is fine."

Many were going to have to spend the night in the city either with friends or at the office because the transit system is closed.

In Fort Mill and at other Springs plants in the area, flags will fly at half staff today and through the week, Matthews said. "This is our Pearl Harbor."

At the Rock Hill Holiday Inn on Cherry Road, several people had checked in whose flights have been canceled at the Charlotte airport.

The hotel's normal hustle and bustle of the hotel has been replaced with silence. "It's just mostly people going about their business as usual, but just being private," said Mary Ivey, Holiday Inn's front desk manager. "It's like a death in the family." "The mood has been somber, said Dennis Merrell, York Tech's president. "This is a horrendous tragedy. People are worrying most about their immediate families and trying to be with them. It will be sometime before we are able to deal with what's going on."

Craig Ferguson, branch manager at Scott and Stringfellow expected a conference call with his corporate office sometime today for a statement on the stock market, which was closed all day.

"This has never happened before," he said. "I would be surprised to find anybody who would have an opinion on how the markets would react to this."

No clients had called Ferguson with questions, he said. "That's a tribute to where people's interest lie. People are more concerned about what's going on and not how it's going to affect them today."

But today's shock isn't about governments or companies, its about people, and the world they believe in, A world that seemed so safe, a world now tinged with tragedy and fear, pain and suffering and death.

A world with an enemy within that nobody yet knows.

Rock Hill resident Jennifer Boland couldn't take her eyes off the four televisions perched high in the Rock Hill YMCA fitness center.

"I'm completely beside myself. Here I am worried about looking for a job even as a terrorist attacks our country. I'm completely amazed and angry," said Boland, who first heard the news as she got into her car to drive over to the Y.

"I thought they were going over what happened five years ago," she said in reference to the World Trade Center bomb attack in 1993. But as she continued to listen, she realized that this was another unprecedented act of terrorism on American soil.

"This has been planned for a long time. It makes me think of Pearl Harbor. How the Japanese sat there and planned it for months," Boland said. "It's obviously been planned. They're hitting us at the heart of what matters to us– the financial district. Even worse they are killing innocent people," as she watched the third hour of live coverage on CNN, the smoke rising from the scene of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings, Boland shook her head. "It makes you sick, doesn't it."

"It makes you appreciate what you have. It gives you a greater appreciation of what this country means to us- what freedom means to us."

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