Portage County pains from attacks

Record-Courier staff report Published:

As people clustered around televisions and radios Tuesday, people remembered the personal connections that tie Portage and the scenes of disaster.

As the events unfolded in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania Portage County commissioners activated the county's Emergency Operations Center "as a precaution" and to keep people informed, a spokeswoman said.

The center was opened on a limited basis at 11:55 a.m. Tuesday, said Margaret Garmon, spokeswoman for the Portage County Emergency Management Agency.

"Commissioners activated the center as a precaution, so we could be a clearing house for any rumors, or to help track down information," she said.

People were calling asking about what public facilities were closed, or to confirm information about rumors they'd heard, she said.

The center is located in the Portage County Justice Center and consists of representatives of fire, police, government and other emergency services.

A special dispatch unit at the Portage County Sheriff's Office is relaying calls from citizens to the EOC as necessary, Garmon said.

Garmon said the state of Ohio's EOC was open in Columbus. The Ohio EMA leaves it a local option for local officials to open their EOCs, she said.

Local fire departments reacted to Tuesday's tragedy in light of the fact that many firefighters were killed while trying to evacuate the World Trade Center before it collapsed.

"We received a report that at least 200 firefighters in New York were killed when the building collapsed," said Ravenna Township Lt. Mark Stankiewicz.

Aurora Assistant Fire Chief David Barnes said the department was worried when they saw the buildings collapse because they knew the firefighters were not done evacuating.

"The rescuers were now becoming the victims," Barnes said.

"It's a grave tragedy that something like this would happen. This is something the emergency services have been training for," said Ravenna Fire Chief Jim DiPaola.

He said it's not a question of if it's going to happen, but when it's going to happen and rescue workers need to be prepared.

"This is something in this line of work that is always a possibility, but when it is the act of terrorism that affects us all _ that act should not go unpunished," DiPaola said.

Ravenna Police Chief Randall McCoy said Tuesday's events were senseless and tragic, but the country needs to be strong.

"No act like this should go without retaliation. If I was the commander in Chief, I would act swift and with all the might of the U.S.," McCoy said.

A radio was playing the story on the loading dock of the Ravenna Post Office as rural carriers loaded up for the day.

"It's an awful tragedy," said Larry Koerber. "Personally, I expected something like this to happen long before this" because of tensions in the Middle East, he said.

A group of about 20 people watched quietly in the seventh floor public meeting room of the Portage County Administration Building in Ravenna, in disbelief as the screen showed again and again the second plane striking the World Trade Center.

"This is an act of war," someone said softly, as reports of the Pentagon attack were heard.

Portage County commissioners suspended their morning session to catch up on the news in the public meeting room.

Shortly before noon, commissioners decided to keep county offices open, "We request your patience, calm, and prayers as all America attempts to deal with these horrific atrocities," the commissioners' announcement said.

Watching the continuing news, Commissioner Kathleen Chandler mentioned worriedly that her daughter works on Park Avenue in New York City, just blocks from the World Trade Center.

"She drives all around that area," Chandler said, her eyes on the television.

Kent residents hoping to pay a water bill at the budget and finance office or chat with a city official were out of luck Tuesday, as all city offices were closed to walk-in traffic.

City employees remained on the job and did business by phone, but all doors were locked to the public, a move Safety Director William Lillich described as a "security precaution."

"This is a situation the country has never experienced before," he said. "Everyone is going to err on the side of caution."

Lillich said extra police officers have been called to establish a presence in the city and patrol neighborhoods. All facilities, inlcuding the city's water plant, had extra security.

"This is a devestating event, and people are almost overwhelmed by it," he said. "It's hard to predict the impact of it."

Downstairs in the Portage County Administration Building, Lois Enlow, director of the Portage County Board of Elections, hurried into the building, carrying a portable radio.

"This is just unbelieveable," she said. Her son lives near Dulles International Airport, and his fianc's stepfather works at the Pentagon, Enlow said.

By 11:30, they had heard that the stepfather was okay, and the skies over Dulles were silent.

"He said there's normally planes coming over every one, one-and-a-half minutes. After the attack they were coming in to land every 30 seconds. And then, about 11 a.m., there was total silence," Enlow said.

Another man said his daughter and son-in-law live in Arlington, Va., north of the Pentagon.

"He said the blast shook the house," the man said.

"It's devastating, appalling," said Portage County Treasurer Maureen Frederick. "Your heart just has to ache for those people's families.

Elvira Ransom of the county Recorder's office, said the news was scary.

"Now it's just praying time" for those hurt, and the families of the dead and injured, she said.

Patty Nichols, one of several title researchers working in the county Recorder's Office, said people were "absolutely stunned. People can't believe this is really happening."

"It's like something out a disaster movie," she said.

Brian Kelley, director of the county's computer systems, had good news by late morning. He got an e-mail message from his sister who works at the Julliard School of Music, 70 blocks from the World Trade Center. The staff had evacuated to the basement of the school, she wrote, and while telephone lines were jammed they still had e-mail.

Pat Garrison of Kent said her daughter, Stephanie, nearly missed being in the area during the explosion.

Stephanie, an associate vice president with Citibank, was headed for the company's main office in Manhattan, where she goes a few times a week to pick up paperwork. At the last minute, she changed her mind and went to the regular office in Long Island instead.

She felt a tremor while in the subway, and a startling announcement when she got off.

"They said, 'Run. Run as fast as you can. They're saying we're the next ones that are going to be bombed.' "

Garrison ran from her office, then tried to get back to her home in Manhattan. Because the subways were closed due to the bombing, she had to walk from Long Island to Manhattan _ a walk that lasted nearly 4 hours.

She finally called her mother at about 4:30 p.m. She had tried to call her earlier in the day, but couldn't get through.

"She said she was OK, but it looked like a war zone," she said. "It looked like it was almost dusk. There was debris everywhere. It was hard to breathe."

Garrison said she was still a little worried about other relatives, including family members who work in the Pentagon building, and was still a bit shaken by her daughter's near miss.

"I'm still a bit shaky," she said. "No matter how old they get, they'll always be your babies."

People watched the televisions hung on the wall at the Bar 10 in downtown Ravenna as the newscasters covered the tragedy.

"It is terrible. I don't know what's going on. I cannot tell. There are too many people coming into the country and not being checked out. They are after New York and D.C.," Bob Jordan of Kent said.

"This is the second time the Trade Center has been destroyed."

"I think it's sad. But I think it was inevitable, We have too many people with their heads in the sand that it will never happen to us. It is terrible that so many people have to lose their lives just so we can learn a lesson," said Chris Johnson of Garrettsville.

John Spagnuolo, owner of Bar 10 said, "This is a tragedy. It is unbelievable that something can happen like this in the U.S."

"I hate to think how many thousands of people were killed in this," he said.

Lisa Mathena, a cook at Bar Ten, talked about the religious connotations of the attacks.

"There is a God. Revelations in the Bible says things like this will happen at the end of time. I honestly think Revelations is taking place right now," Mathena said.

Terri Foust, a server at the Triangle Drug and the cook, Jettie Slater, cried and hugged Tuesday morning.

"I don't know what to say. I'm dumbfounded. It seems surreal. It's happening, but you cannot believe it is happening," Foust said.

"My heart feels absolutely broken. That I live in a time where there is no much hate. Nobody respects life any more. It's like watching a real bad movie," Slater said.

At Kent Travel, agents were glued to the television between taking phone calls from clients, many of whom were stranded in their connecting city, struggling to find a rental car.

"I'm just stunned this could happen in our country," said Bonnie Jenior, one of the travel agents.

Jenior predicted that the closure of all the nation's airports would create havoc and keep people stranded for days.

"Airport security is going to get a lot tougher," she said. "This was a huge wake-up call."

At Rex TV and appliance, Marie Langford, an employee of Robinson Health Affiliates in Kent, was purchasing a 13-inch television for her office. She said her boss was fielding calls from associates in other offices seeking information.

"It's tragic," she said with tears in her eyes. "Tragic."

David Maxwell, manager of the store, said the store had been busy all day with people purchasing small televisions for their offices.

Joe Taylor, who was visiting from the company's corporate office, said he was rethinking plans to fly in a few weeks, saying he would probably take an eight hour drive instead. He said he called the corporate office in Dayton and learned employees were glued to the television set.

"I'm glad I don't have anybody who works for me flying right now," he said.

Sue Whitehurst, executive director of Townhall II, said the attacks represented triggers for some clients. Staff is just as upset, she said.

"It's scary," she said. "I think this is just the tip. This is terrible."

The attack Tuesday morning found David Hansford, president of Greer Heating & Air Conditioning in Kent, witnessing the evacuation of Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

That's because Hansford was at the I-X Center in Cleveland where he was attending a continuing education course required for extending his license in his field of work.

Because the airport parking lot was closed, he said, "people were streaming out of the airport and walking along Route 237 with their luggage, I supposed hoping to somehow get home."

Hansford watched the evacuation as he was leaving the I-X Center to return to Kent to preside over the weekly meeting of the Kent Rotary Club, which canceled its scheduled program out of respect for the victims of the tragedy.

"I think we need to think about the these people and the many others who are victims of this horrible event," he told Rotarians.

Kent businessman Jim Callahan, of Callahan's Carpet, said this morning that his son, Mark, who works for a software company that leases space in the KeyBank building in Cleveland told him over the telephone that he was leaving work along with everyone else at Cleveland's tallest building because the building had been ordered closed.

"He said Cleveland traffic was terrible because so many business were closing voluntarily at the request of the mayor, Michael White," Callahan said.

Ravenna Service Director Don Kainrad said "This is a time of prayer, for our families, for our communities and for our nation. It is not a time of panic."

"I pray that God will grant President Bush and members of Congress the wisdom to effectively address these terrorist attacks on our country," Kainrad said.

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E-mail: mkosinski@recordpub.net

tprusha@recordpub.net

msever@recordpub.net or

dsmith@recordpub.net

Phone: (330) 296-9657

Record-Courier staff writers Marly Kosinski, Tom Prusha, Mike Sever,

Diane Smith and publisher David Dix contributed to this story.

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