Seattle's 'big symbols' closed; skyscrapers, Space Needle evacuated
Seattle's tallest building, the 76-story Bank of America Tower, was closed, as was the Space Needle. The 55-story Washington Mutual Building and several other Seattle skyscrapers were evacuated, although as the morning wore on, some buildings were re-opened.
Sea-Tac, Boeing Field and Portland's airport were closed to large commercial traffic for 24 hours by order of the Federal Aviation Administration.
All federal office buildings are closed to anyone but employees, who were given the option of going home.
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and the city's police and fire chiefs were at Seattle's Emergency Operations Center, which was activated at 6:45 a.m. today.
"There has been no threat to Seattle. Still, the city is taking every precaution." Schell said early this morning.
The mayor said the attacks are a "tragedy for the people who are obviously involved, but it also is a tragedy for our country. It strikes at the heart of our symbols. I'm just sick."
As soon as the news reached Seattle, security was enhanced at the Space Needle and the Bank of America Tower, "the big symbols" in Seattle, Schell said.
Meanwhile City Councilwoman Margaret Pageler, used a morning news briefing to scold the public and media for criticizing Schell's decision two years ago to cancel the millennium celebration at the Seattle Center after terrorist threats.
"He took enormous political flak for that. We all owe him an apology." said Pageler, who has endorsed Schell's re-election bid.
Schell canceled the New Year's Eve 2000 celebration at Seattle Center when it was thought the Space Needle might be a target of terrorists after one terrorist, Ahmed Ressam, was caught coming into this country with a trunkload of bomb-making materials.
Ressam was later convicted of conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism. Ressam, who has been connected to Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, is cooperating with federal authorities and revealed that he intended to plant a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport.
Schell said he'd been informed that the Navy will station a military ship in Elliott Bay later today. He did not have details on what type of ship or where it was coming from, but emphasized it was just a precaution. The Navy declined comment.
Ray Laurer, a spokesman for the FBI, said there were no known threats to anything in Seattle. Seattle police made a "general sweep" of important Seattle buildings, including the entire Seattle Center, looking for suspicious packages or other warning signs, Police Department spokesman Scott Moss said.
To assist the disaster effort in New York, a 65 member urban search and rescue team was scheduled to depart from McChord Air Force Base later today to aid in recovery efforts. The team includes 22 Seattle firefighters, said Seattle Fire Chief Gary Morris.
In the Puget Sound area, vehicle service was suspended on Washington state ferries about 9 a.m. today. Boats continued running with passenger-only service.
Gov. Gary Locke this morning said the state Capitol would be closed to the public for at least a couple hours until all aircraft were cleared from the sky. He said the National Guard had been in contact with the FBI, but he did not know of any targets in Washington state.
Despite the state Capitol's closure, Locke said, government would not be shut down, and state employees would continue to work in the building.
"The last thing we want to do is give the terrorists satisfaction that they have brought America to its knees," Locke said. "This is just an incredibly shocking day. Absolutely horrific."
Locke said he would go to the state's emergency-command headquarters at Camp Murray, outside Tacoma, to be briefed by emergency officials. The center had been on a high level of alert since the attacks, in part to create "a safe haven" for the governor in case he needed to move there to manage state government from a safe location. For now, Locke planned only to be briefed there but to continue working out of the Capitol.
Locke said the State Patrol would monitor the state's transportation system, paying particular attention to bridges, including the Evergreen Point, Interstate 90 and Tacoma Narrows bridges. County officials were carefully monitoring the Metro bus tunnel in downtown Seattle, Locke said.
The State Patrol also was taking the precaution of checking abandoned vehicles along state roads, according to spokeswoman Monica Hunter.
The King County Sheriff's office increased security at the King County courthouse in Seattle, the Regional Justice Center in Kent, the Metro bus tunnel and at the King County Airport (Boeing Field), which was closed. Jurors were encouraged to report for duty.
In Washington, D.C., Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, was in a meeting in the office of House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt when reports of the attacks came in. The building was soon evacuated.
"You could hear the plane crashing into the Pentagon from Capitol Hill, said George Behan, Dicks' chief of staff.
"As soon as we got out we saw the smoke on the horizon at the Pentagon,"
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge, was in his Capitol Hill office when the Pentagon was hit.
"I intercepted a few members of Congress and I told them to get their staffs out of work... There's been rumors of explosions here and there."
All military bases in the state were put on high alert. At Fort Lewis, officials closed all but two entrances to the complex, restricted deliveries and curtailed training activities to increase security at the base.
Security at the Hanford nuclear reservation was stepped up this morning after the attacks. The FAA at about 9 a.m. today ordered a 24-hour halt on all flights, after closing their airport at about 7 a.m.
Sea-Tac officials said they didn't know how many flights — in-coming our out-going — were grounded. They were still trying to get an accurate count.
Airlines were securing all their airplanes and moving all jetways, which passengers use to board planes, away from the aircraft, said Deanna Zachrisson, a Port of Seattle spokeswoman.
Port police with dogs were moving through all the terminals, on a security sweep, though there had been no specific threats against the airport.
The biggest immediate challenge for port officials this morning was finding a place to park all the grounded airplanes, Zachrisson said.
The backup was obvious to observers. Outside the D terminal, at least nine Alaska Airlines jets sat parked.
Zachrisson said she did not know Sea-Tac's capacity to park planes, nor did she know how many planes were sitting at the airport.
The concourses — hallways leading to the gates from the main terminals — had been closed to both passengers and employees. Restaurants also were closed. Approximately 15,000 people work at Sea-Tac, employed by the port, airlines and concessionaires.
"There's no reason to be on the concourses," Zachrisson said.
Boeing's new headquarters in Chicago, which opened just last week, was evacuated as a precautionary measure, according to company spokesman Tom Ryan. The building is a 36-story high-rise on the banks of the Chicago River. Boeing occupies the top 12 floors. Ryan said there had been no closures of Boeing buildings in the Seattle area as of 8:30 a.m.
The Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle said it was being overwhelmed with calls from people wanting to donate blood. When the center opened its doors at 10:30 a.m., an hour and a half earlier than usual, people were already lined up to donate blood, spokesman Keith Warnack said. At 11:30 a.m., there were at least 100 people waiting to donate.
"I've never seen such a response," he said.
The blood center also has been working with the U.S. military to ship blood east as soon as planes are available, Warnack said.
He asked that people continue to donate because more blood will be needed as people who are injured go into surgery. The center was expected to open early tomorrow morning for donations, but a specific time hadn't been set.
As Warnack was entering the blood center offices on First Hill this morning, a woman drove up in tears. "She wanted to know when the center would be open for blood donors," Warnack said.
At Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, employees were given the option of staying home. The campus remained open but many employees, including some trying to find news of their relatives on the East Coast, stayed home.
Company President Rick Belluzzo, in an e-mail to employees, said the company was in contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies "to monitor the situation and ensure there are no connections to Washington state or any other geographic location where we might have personnel or facilities."
Many other buildings in downtown Seattle were granting access to tenants only, according to the Downtown Seattle Association. Some retailers were considering closing so that employees could be with their families.
Northgate, Tacoma, Alderwood malls and several other regional shopping centers were closed for the day.