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From the Vault: News from the Sept. 12, 2001, edition of the Press & Journal

Posted 9/12/18

Attacks rattle residents; ‘It’s like a dream; this can’t be real’; airport, base buckle down; locals numb

“It’s like a dream,” said Middletown resident Doug Hoover while he watched …

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From the Vault: News from the Sept. 12, 2001, edition of the Press & Journal

Posted

Attacks rattle residents; ‘It’s like a dream; this can’t be real’; airport, base buckle down; locals numb

“It’s like a dream,” said Middletown resident Doug Hoover while he watched TV at Eats Deli on South Union Street in the borough on Sept. 11. “This can’t be real.”

What Hoover was referring to was the slew of terrorist attacks that occurred yesterday: four hijacked airplanes; the collapse of both World Trade Center towers, the plane crash into the Pentagon and the plane crash in Somerset County.

Considered the worst terrorist attacks by far in this country, Middletowners were left stunned and disbelieving.

“It’s like that movie ‘ConAir,’” said Dawn Feathers, also watching TV at Eats. “It’s just unreal.”

Rumors abounded soon after the attacks on the World Trade Centers. Middletown Mayor Barbara Layne issued a release that the town was not going to be evacuated.

None of the schools in the Middletown area closed.

The scene at Lower Dauphin High School was described as chaotic, as radio and TV reported that the school was dismissing early, when it was not. Parents showed up to take their children home and were met by teachers who said the school was still in session.

Lower Dauphin Communications Coordinator Jim Hazen said he was having difficulty with the TV stations and that evening activities had been canceled.

At Harrisburg International Airport, the first ever shutdown of American air space resulted in a complete closing of the airport.

“We’re asking people to leave,” said Alfred Testa, airport director. He also said the airport has increased security, adding extra police and firefighters on site.

Once the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down the air space at 10:24 a.m., all planes in the air were directed to land at the closest airport. Testa said an American Airlines flight en route from Chicago to New York landed with about 100 people. Testa also said a US Airways flight that was to depart from HIA was grounded. He did not say where that flight was originally headed.

At the other end of the runway, Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit, the 193rd Special Operations Wing, has been put on highest alert. The sign outside the gates leading to the 193rd reads “Threat Condition Delta,” which is the highest level of alert for the military. Threat Condition Delta means a terrorist attack has occurred or is imminent.

“We’re basically locked down right now,” said Lt. Edward Shank, chief of public affairs for the unit. “We’re fully manned with security police. The fire department is on its way in. We’ve also got certain careers on stand by, like the cooks. We’re gonna need to feed these people. We’re pretty self-sufficient.”

Shank said that after the original attack at the World Trade Center Towers, the base went to a heightened level of security, searching any civilian vehicles entering the base. After the attack on the Pentagon, at about 10:30 a.m., it went to the highest level, with no unauthorized personnel allowed on base.

Shank said as of 2:30 p.m., they were concerned about the whereabouts of one of their pilots, who flies out of the Boston area.

Faulty gate delays TMI lockdown

After the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, at 8:50 a.m., the federal government was quick to respond by placing high-level security risk status to such entities as national monuments, government buildings, nuclear facilities, airports, etc., on a heightened security status.

Three Mile Island nuclear power plant immediately fell under this security status. At 9:20 a.m., just a half-hour after the first attack in Manhattan, Robert Reid, former mayor of Middletown and effective mayor-elect, went to TMI’s North Gate entrance to check on its security status. The reason for Reid’s inspection was his concern about the north gate, the main access into TMI.

“When I arrived at the north gate, there were two people there [guarding], a woman and another guard armed with a machine gun,” he said. Reid knew that the gate was typically unmanned and he was concerned about the welfare of residents in the area, especially in the aftermath of the most vicious attack on American soil that had just taken place.

“I was disturbed by the lack of security there,” he said. What was even more unsettling, according to Reid, was the fact that the vehicle barrier was wide open.

“It is always best to be prepared for the worst,” he said. “This was lax, even if the terrorism had not just occurred.”

Middletown Police Chief Keith Reismiller was also present. He, too, had driven down to check on the plant’s security status and to offer the assistance of his officers, if needed, to “beef up” security.

And according to the chief, Middletown Mayor Barbara Layne had asked the chief to call the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to ensure the integrity of the nuclear facility’s security.

“PEMA said that the site was secure and that everything was OK,” Reismiller said. “Since that time, the number of security personnel has been increased.”

“I wanted to make sure that the proper security measures were in place,” Layne said. “TMI called me late morning ... to assure me that the facility was secure.”

“It is unconscionable to me that somebody could do this [terrorism]," she said.

Doug Gellatly, Londonderry Township chairman of the Board of Supervisors, also stopped at the north gate and spoke with a guard. Gellatly had been concerned for quite some time as to what he saw as lax security at the north gate. He noticed that the gate that served as a vehicle barrier was still open.

Gellatly said a guard at TMI told Londonderry Supervisor Edward Swartz that morning that the reason the barrier was not secured was because it was not hooked up to electricity. Swartz later confirmed this had been the case.

A member of the Press And Journal staff drove by TMI about an hour and a half after the first terrorist attack and saw that the vehicle barrier was still open. It was at least an hour and a half after the attack before a State Police officer arrived as additional security backup.

Headlines from the edition

• Middletown police say seat belt use on rise

• Truck found abandoned near river

Hot buys

• Half keg of Red Dog, $42.99. Milwaukee’s Best Light and Best Ice, $7.99 for 24 12-ounce cans. Tony’s Beverage, 100 Brown St.

• Julia Roberts and Billy Crystal in “America’s Sweethearts.” Adults $3, children $2. Elks Theatre, Middletown.