By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY September 14, 2001 Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a day that defied description. Yet some tried.
They were trying to describe the scene of the most massive, well-orchestrated and devastating terrorist attack ever to take place on American soil.
At 8:45 a.m. that horrific day, a plane hijacked by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Centers Tower One in New York City. Less than 20 minutes later, another hijacked plane crashed into Tower Two, and about an hour later, the Twin Towers both collapsed. Much later in the day, around 5 p.m., Building 7 also collapsed.
Around the same time as the Twin Towers strikes, a third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., ripping a huge gash in the west side of the five-sided headquarters of the nations armed forces.
A fourth hijacked plane crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania shortly thereafter. It is speculated that plane was heading for Camp David, the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
In all, 266 people died on board the United and American flights.
While no official tally is even possible at this time, it is feared that the number of injured and dead will rise into the thousands or tens of thousands. At least 200 New York City firefighters likely lost their lives when the Towers came down, along with nearly 80 New York City police officers, but the dangers of fire, collapses and smoke at the World Trade Center have significantly hampered rescue efforts.
As Tuesday progressed and more news was released, activities slowed down in Sullivan County and around the nation. People were glued to televisions, radios, computers, and phones for any and all news. Shock, fear, and tears were the order of the day, and the very world seemed to stop as all eyes were on the horrors in New York and Washington.
At the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello, a television was set up in the lobby so all could watch the events as they unfolded. Legislators, county officials, and others stood silent as scene after scene of devastation appeared.
When the second plane crash was replayed, all that could be heard were gasps and "Oh my God!" Most of the crowd were moved to tears.
At first, Legislady Leni Binder was speechless. Quickly, her tears and sorrow turned to rage and anger.
"There is a level of frustration, she said as flames billowed out of the Twin Towers. We were warned. We knew the targets. Yet we did nothing. Because we were never attacked, we were arrogant. This is the cruelest way to learn a lesson.
We will get over the shock, shake our heads, and we will get even, she added.
County Clerk George Cooke summed up many observers feelings.
"Everyone will remember September 11, 2001. People here are going through the motions. The best thing to do now is pray."
New York Governor George Pataki declared a state of emergency, and all the primary elections in the state were suspended. In Sullivan County, primaries were to be held for the Republican and Democratic candidates for District 9 Legislator, Lumberland Republican Town Clerk, Mamakating Conservative Town Justice, Mamakating Republican Town Council, Republican Party Committeepeople (Districts 1 and 3), and Democratic Party Committeeperson (District 5). No new date for the primaries was announced, but Election Day is still scheduled for Tuesday, November 6, said officials.
Not many people were worried about the lack of elections, however.
"Today's horrific incident at the World Trade Center which appears to be part of a coordinated terrorist attack is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions and a crime against all Americans and all decent people around the world," Pataki said in statement released on Tuesday. "We must all pull together and do our part. There will be many people in need of blood in the coming days and weeks, and I am urging all New Yorkers to contact their local blood donor center to arrange for a blood donation."
"The attacks that took place today on American soil were the vicious and senseless acts of madmen," United States Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-26th) said in a press release. "My greatest concern now is for the tens of thousands of victims. My thoughts and prayers, like those of all Americans today, are with those innocent victims and their families."
As Pataki pointed out, blood is a great need for many involved. The Red Cross has been making a plea for blood and other donations, and those looking to donate should call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE. People who want to volunteer or give money should call 1-877-RED-CROSS.
Several blood drives have already been set up. They will be run by the Red Cross and Community General Hospital (CGH). On Tuesday, September 18, from noon to 6 p.m., a blood drive will be held at the Neighborhood Facility Building on Jefferson Street in Monticello. On Wednesday, September 19, and Thursday, September 20, there will be a blood drive in Grahamsville. Please call 436-4416 for an appointment.
The next blood drive will be on Saturday, September 22, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Liberty Masonic Lodge. On Monday, September 24, another blood drive will take place at the Youngsville Firehouse from 2 to 8 p.m.
On Thursday, September 27, the last scheduled blood drive will be at CGH in Harris. It will go from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and noon to 4 p.m. Please call 794-3300 ext. 2214 for an appointment.
Of course, the Red Cross is doing more than collecting blood.
"Minutes after the explosion, the Red Cross was called into action," stated Elizabeth Popovich, director of the Sullivan County chapter of the American Red Cross in Greater New York. Popovich was at the Red Cross Headquarters at 150 Amsterdam Avenue in New York City for a meeting when the first plane struck. "Many different people kept showing up throughout the day to volunteer their services and to give blood. It was amazing."
And at least one local resident witnessed the actual tragedies at the World Trade Center.
"The plane was flying real low," Mongaup Valley resident Frank Konefal said. Konefal was in New York to meet his nephew when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
"It was like a sonic boom. As I walked up to take pictures, I saw people jumping out of the building to escape."
Because of the tragedy, many events were cancelled or delayed. All area schools cancelled afterschool activities.
The Hazardous Household Waste Collection Event scheduled for Saturday has been cancelled. It was cancelled because the company that does the collection is unable to travel on the East Coast due to restrictions because of the tragedy. It will be rescheduled in the future.
Other offerings were affected by the tragedy. In the county, channels 5 (Fox), 7 (ABC), 9 (UPN), 11 (WB), and 13 (PBS) were knocked out. Time Warner Channels (TBS and TNT) carried CNN all day and night. Viacom Networks (TNN, VH1, and MTV) carried CBS news coverage. TLC carried BBC coverage. QVC, the Food Network, and HGTV suspended programming. All eyes were tuned to New York and Washington for any and all information available.
Dr. Dick Dunn held a religious service at Sullivan County Community College. The students from New York City at SCCC were allowed to call home and find out about loved ones. The college hosted a panel discussion on Thursday about the situation.
The Fireman's Parade in Loch Sheldrake on Saturday will happen as planned. In fact, it will be dedicated to those lost in the tragedy.
Indeed, even those without affected loved ones were nevertheless stunned.
"Many people were in disbelief," ShortLine bus driver Andy Rubin remarked.
Rubin also stated that passengers and traffic got less as the day wore on.
"I can't believe something like this happened within our lifetime."
On Wednesday, WSUL dedicated their morning show to taking listeners' phone calls. As people called, WSUL gave out American flags to show unity and support.
For morning DJ Josh Sommers, it was more personal.
"My brother works in the World Trade Center," Sommers told the audience. "The hardest thing for me was having to be on the air while I was worried about my brother. I was very relieved when I heard he was OK."
Between the talk, WSUL played such patriotic songs as "God Bless The USA" and "Born in the USA." Sommers spent four hours combining "God Bless The USA" and listeners comments to make a moving tribute. At 4 p.m., Sommers stood outside the Government Center and handed out American flags to all who came by. Within five minutes, Sommers gave away all 50 flags that he brought with him.