While miles away–it’s too close to home

In the Fort Frances Times newsroom, staff stood stupefied as a second plane flew into the second of the “twin towers” that make up the World Trade Center in New York City.
That’s when everyone realized this disaster was not human error.
Like millions of others, we watched as the twin towers were shown, broken, in a cloud of billowing smoke. Moments later, the surreality of it grew when news anchors revealed the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. had been hit.
Then the first International Trade Center tower collapsed. Then another hijacked plane went down in a field near Pittsburgh.
And finally, the second tower collapsed.
It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that it struck me my mother and younger sister were supposed to be boarding a plane at Cleveland’s international airport to fly through Pennsylvania and New York states.
Like everyone, everywhere with a relative or friend in transit during yesterday’s “attack on America,” a worst-case scenario crossed my mind.
I picked up the phone.
My mom and sister were okay. My mother called family members from the Cleveland airport, where she joined thousands of others who were stranded as all airlines across the U.S. were ordered to keep their planes grounded.
At the airport, they had checked in their bags and picked up their tickets, oblivious to what had just happened in New York City. They were sitting in the waiting area and had just begun to notice they were the only people there when a security officer told them to retrieve their baggage.
She began to glean what had happened as she heard bits and pieces of conversation and glimpsed some airport television screens as she was rushed–with hundreds of others–through the airport.
“About 25 police cars arrived and police swept through the airport,” she told me later from a Cleveland hotel room. “They let us go back in and let us get our luggage.
“It was very confusing. There were hundreds of people leaving and hundreds of people going.”
The throng of travellers were led out of the airport and onto the terminal’s streets, where all traffic already had disappeared. From there, they walked, hundreds of them, out of the airport, down the exits, and onto the freeway where vehicles picked them up.
As they were leaving, a bomb squad pulled up, sirens blaring, and entered the airport.
“People are very saddened, shocked, and scared,” she said. “People in Cleveland are shocked and frightened by this.”
In Cleveland, residents are talking in frightened awe about the day’s events.
“Flags are at half-mast. At every single place, the flags are at half mast,” my mom said. “At a restaurant, I heard somebody, a waitress, say ‘He didn’t even know, how could he not know’ after a customer came in without a clue what had struck the country.”
My mother and sister took a $45 cab ride to get to a hotel with vacancies on the city’s fringes, where they spent the afternoon, finally watching the footage that millions of others had seen and realizing why they had gone through what they did.
The confusion my mother and sister went through yesterday is similar to what millions of others–travellers, residents, and businesspeople–went through all across the U.S. in what is easily the most newsworthy event in this reporter’s life time.
I have observed from afar many disastrous events which, while horrible, were somewhere else. This time it’s different. This time the magnitude of the terrorism in the United States has shaken us here in Fort Frances, as well as across Canada and all over the world.
And while my mom, my sister, and thousands of others had a frightening experience, hundreds more got on a plane heading for home, holidays, or business and just happened to be one of the four fateful flights which were taken over and crashed by suicidal terrorists.
I can’t even guess how frightened they were.
Still others went to work yesterday morning, just like I, and many others did–only to die minutes later because they were too close to terrorists’ targets.
I’m lucky, along with my mother and sister, I have a story to tell.
Others lost everything. My thoughts are with them.