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Superiorland on 9/11

September 11, 2011

MARQUETTE - Horrified Upper Peninsula residents - like millions of people across the world - stared at television sets in profound disbelief, anger, fear and sadness as the worst terrorist attacks in the nation's history unfolded on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

It began at 8:48 a.m. with the first televised news reports that a plane had struck one of the twin 110-story towers of the World Trade Center in New York, perhaps reminding some of a bomber that crashed accidentally into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building in 1945.

But when another airliner slammed into the second tower at 9:03 a.m., New Yorkers and police officials were reminded more immediately of the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000 others.

Article Photos

Andy Demski of Marquette lights a candle in remembrance of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. while stopping to pray at St. Peter Cathedral on Sept. 11, 2001. Demski, then a junior at Northern Michigan University, was in class when he heard of the attacks.

"We don't know who's doing it. Clearly, its terrorism related, a carefully coordinated attack," a senior U.S. intelligence official told the Associated Press. "It's not the work of an unsophisticated enemy. It's too soon to say who."

Heavy black smoked rolled into the skies as the twin towers burned. Terrifying images of people jumping to their deaths were seen on television.

Jessica Baumgartner, then 19, a sophomore at Northern Michigan University, was awakened to the news by other students.

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"Everybody had their TVs on," she said. "We were in each others rooms, people were crying."

At 9:41 a.m., a third plane struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., about 11 minutes after President George W. Bush appeared on television from a school classroom in Florida, telling viewers a national tragedy had occurred and that it was an apparent terrorist attack.

James Goldsmith, the national Veterans of Foreign Wars commander from downstate Lapeer, was checking out of a Houghton hotel when he saw news footage on a television screen.

"My first reaction was, 'Oh no,'" Goldsmith said. "They kept showing the same images over and over, of the planes crashing into the towers, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

At 9:50 a.m., the south tower at the World Trade Center collapsed. At 10:03 a.m., another passenger jet crashed into the ground in Somerset County, Penn., killing all on board.

The Federal Aviation Administration had ordered all nonmilitary planes to land at the nearest airport. A Northwest Airlines airbus carrying 107 people from Hartford, Conn. to Minneapolis and a Sun Country jet with 97 passengers traveling from New York to Los Angeles landed at Sawyer International Airport.

Passengers on both planes were not immediately told of the terror attacks.

"They didn't tell us much," said Amir Malina of Israel, who was on the Sun Country flight. "Even after we landed they didn't tell us much."

The passengers were eventually taken off the planes, which led to the FBI being called to Sawyer. A Russian passenger on the Sun Country flight, who didn't speak English, was reportedly unruly. Airport Manager Hal Pawley said the man was carrying important papers.

"When they told people that they had to leave their belongings on the plane, he became upset," Pawley said.

At 10:29 a.m., the north World Trade Center tower fell.

"This is perhaps the most audacious terrorist attack that's ever taken place in the world," Chris Yates, an aviation expert at Jane's Transport in London, told the Associated Press. "It takes a logistics operation from the terror group involved that is second to none. Only a very small handful of terror groups is on that list I would name at the top of the list Osama bin Laden."

Upper Peninsula emergency management officials took initial steps dictated in plans for a national emergency and extra precautions were taken to secure potential terrorist targets in the region including the Mackinac Bridge, the International Bridge and the Soo Locks.

The federal building in Marquette was closed. Numerous activities, including civic meetings and sporting events, were cancelled. Utilities took extra precautions.

"The devastating events of today led to our company implementing security procedures much the same as we did during the Y2K situation," said Upper Peninsula Power Co. operations manager Frank Stipech. "We've limited access to our buildings and stationed extra people at important transmission and generation facilities."

At the Powell Township School in Big Bay, students would begin collecting donations for medical expenses for the terrorist attack victims, an action which would be played out in countless schoolhouses across the region.

"I was pretty scared. I can't imagine how the people in Manhattan felt," said eighth-grader Amanda Boyer. "It's a very sad that somebody could actually be this mean and hurt so many people."

Classmate Jimmy Bourgois, 13, said the students heard about the attacks in English class.

"We only have one TV at the school with satellite and for some reason it wouldn't work," he said. "So, we went to the Thunder Bay Inn across the street and watched TV there. So many people lost loved ones. We knew we had to help."

The Upper Peninsula Chapter of the American Red Cross was looking for volunteers and donations and sent Disaster Action Teams to provide food, shelter and supplies to those affected by travel disruptions at local airports.

Television commentators couldn't determine any anniversary relevant to the date, which might explain the terror attacks. They equated the numerals of the month and day with the phone number dialed for emergency calls: 9-1-1.

Gasoline prices spiked with news of the attacks, prompting many to rush to top off their tanks and fill a variety of containers. Gas had been $1.77 a gallon.

"Demand is outstripping supply in the short term. So we don't know how much it's going to go up," said Gary Menhennick, owner of A.J.'s Super Shell in Ishpeming. "There were rumors of gas at $4 or $5 a gallon."

Gov. Jennifer Granholm would later threaten gas stations with legal action after a Jackson service station hiked its price to $6.75 per gallon. The run on the gas pumps caused traffic problems in Marquette and elsewhere.

Worried local investors were being counseled not to make rash long-term decisions in the face of dramatic short-term circumstances. At NMU, support staff was counseling students that nightmares, feeling disconnected, amnesia about the attacks and violent fantasies could occur over the coming weeks as part of the normal healing process.

Rain showers fell over the Marquette area, darkening the skies that early autumn Tuesday.

People remained transfixed by the images on television, with the news crawl at the bottom of the screen continuously shuttling updates.

President Bush would speak to the country from the Oval Office at 8:30 p.m.

"Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts," Bush said.

The incidents claimed a total of 2,975 lives.

In the pews of local churches, people wept, prayed and consoled each other.

Barb Swenor of Marquette brought her son, Adam, 11, and daughter, Abby, 7, to a service.

Adam said the attacks shocked him when he heard about them at Graveraet Middle School.

"I thought the terrorists were like psychos," he said.

Abby Swenor thought it was something out of a movie.

"It was something on TV," she said. "It was, on TV."

At the First Presbyterian Church in Marquette, there was no organ music. No choir. No hymns from the congregation.

"Today, we cannot sing," the Rev. Lawrence Jones said. "We have lost perhaps more than we know in the destruction in New York and Washington."

At the close of his service, Jones bowed his head and said, "Lord, we pray that we do not have to witness a day like this again."

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal. net.



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