Destruction and death far away felt close to home
Seattle Times staff reporter
It happened on the other coast, yet yesterday's terrorist attacks reverberated like an underground quake through the region, uniting us with the rest of the country in a profound state of grief and apprehension.
As the magnitude became known yesterday, scenes of ordinary bustle mixed with the somber realization that we as a nation had entered a new era. War was no longer a thing that happened elsewhere.
Even as the sun shone brightly through a cloudless sky — what soggy Northwesterners usually live for — many people stayed indoors, in homes and offices and restaurants and taverns, hovering around television sets, watching replays of the destruction of one of the nation's most important economic symbols — the World Trade Center — and wondering aloud at the death toll, what it all means, and what's next.
"I mostly feel its nearness rather than its farness," said Seattle author Jonathan Raban. "Insofar as terrorism sends a message, this message was not directed at New York or Washington, D.C., or Pittsburgh, but at the very idea of America, and Seattle is a part of that idea."
Much of Seattle appeared to go about business as usual, but below the surface, at street level, in ad hoc gatherings everywhere, the talk of the town was singular and all over the emotional map.
Some seemed paralyzed by fear, while others refused, out of spite for the unknown perpetrators, to change their daily routines. Every now and then, people would break down crying — in the streets, in their cars on the way to work, walking to the elevator, or going to church. Churches throughout the area held special vigils.
Donors line up to give blood
A great need for blood in New York City prompted long lines of donors outside the Puget Sound Blood Center's main branch in Seattle. The wait for many was more than three hours.
Others simply wandered the streets of their hometowns and workplaces, talking and seeking fellowship. Everywhere, a subtle urgency informed the walk and talk of citizens. Every tenth person, it seemed, was on a cell phone checking on someone.
With so many people working in the World Trade Center towers, it was inevitable that some residents here knew people who worked there or elsewhere in Manhattan.
"I worked in the World Trade Center for about 18 months. I'm very sure that some of my former co-workers died this morning," New Yorker Frank Novacek said in an e-mail to a Seattle friend. "I've been hearing people going to the roof of our apartment building all morning to look at what happened. I can't bring myself to look."
His Seattle friend, Vince Keuter, a researcher at The Times, said:
"This morning, I held my wife for I don't know how long while she just cried and cried. She's at home now. She works at St. Martin's College (in Olympia). She couldn't get past Fort Lewis, of course, so she had to turn around and go back. Now she's at a friend's house because she doesn't want to be at home alone."
Many area malls closed. Schools canceled classes and let students monitor the news. Ferry service all but stopped. Downtown high-rises were evacuated and searched. Federal buildings and military bases were on heightened alert. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport shut down.
Sea-Tac resembled ghost town
As morning segued into afternoon, the airport looked like a ghost town. Stranded passengers splayed out across uncomfortable chairs, staring blankly, reading books or sleeping.
The mood was grim. There was little fraternizing.
Dee Crosson of New Jersey, in town for her husband's reunion at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, had been waiting for hours after her flight to Philadelphia was canceled.
"We think we've got it bad just sitting here," she said. "But it's all relative. How fortunate are we to not be in the place of those who were killed or injured, or in the place of their families?"
At the Construction Zone Lounge in the main terminal, a metal gate wrapped around the closed bar. But the TV, flanked by shelves of spirits, remained on.
Leaning against a railing, peering through the metal and watching a bewildering slice of American history was 25-year-old Stan Mestan, visiting the U.S. from his homeland of Slovakia in Eastern Europe.
He pardoned himself for his lack of command of the English language but on that day, when a country was at a loss for words, he was as articulate as anyone. "I can't believe it," he said, "because it's unbelievable."
At the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, by 11:30 a.m. the bar had its hands full serving drinks, as people lingered to watch the news on television.
At St. James Cathedral, in the heart of Seattle's First Hill, workers and residents spent the noon hour in prayer. An estimated 1,500 people poured into the sanctuary, filling the pews and aisles.
"Terrorists have sacrificed human lives and have left the world feeling vulnerable and afraid," Archbishop Alexander Brunett told the gathering.
Outside, the church bell, usually reserved for funerals, echoed through surrounding neighborhoods. Students from nearby O'Dea High School sat on the sidewalk and ate their lunches in somber quiet.
"A lot of us are feeling confused. You think you're safe, and then something like this happens," said Grant Gasca, 16, a junior. "You realize it's easy for something like this to happen. It's scary."
On the surface, things were normal
Joggers, rollerbladers, dog owners with their pets, and parents with baby strollers lined the paths around Green Lake under the gentle shine of a mid-afternoon sun. It all looked so normal.
"It may look it, but it doesn't feel it," said Connie Godman. "Everybody is thinking about the same thing. It's on everybody's mind and in everybody's heart."
Steve Staats reclined on a bench in front of the Green Lake rowing house, waiting for a friend to join him for a walk around the lake.
"It's sort of surreal," said Staats, uttering the word used by so many yesterday.
Along Rainier Avenue South, at Franklin High School, a 10th-grader in Ron Hailey's world-history class asked:
"Are we at war right now?"
"We're not at a direct state of war, but we are under attack," Hailey said.
"I don't feel safe no more," a student replied.
At Lake Washington's Stan Sayres Memorial Park, where the hydroplanes raced and the Blue Angels performed less than six weeks ago, Bob Rosenberger skimmed the water on his Jet Ski.
Rosenberger, more than most, understands the slippery nature of mortality. He has lived with HIV for 15 of his 40 years. He emerged from a coma when doctors had figured he would die.
"I'm not going to let this incident dictate the rest of my life," he said. "All I know is that I can die today and be a fulfilled person. I think more of us will start to think about things like that. People will stop taking things for granted."
At the entrance to the Bank of America Tower at Fourth Avenue and Cherry Street, employees reported to work only to learn that the 76-story building, Seattle's tallest, had been closed. They gathered at an outdoor foyer and talked about the news the way an earlier generation of Americans must have spoken about Pearl Harbor.
"I feel numb," said Greg Klump, 51, a financial accounting manager. "If I stopped to think about the people and the families of the people inside those buildings right now, I'd probably break down and cry."
Another man wondered aloud on a downtown Seattle sidewalk: What does one do in the event of a national emergency that does not affect you directly and immediately?
On the seventh floor of the King County Courthouse, potential jurors sat in a room designed to keep the news of the world out. But the news was all anyone was discussing.
"I keep thinking, how can they do this to innocent people?" said Carma Gunno of Sammamish.
A day 'you remember forever'
Listening to KIRO radio on his way to jury duty, Jim Bailey at first thought it was a hoax à la Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast in the 1930s.
"The enormity of this I don't think will be known for a long time," said Bailey, 71, of Seattle, who grimly cataloged the news as one of those events you remember forever. A milestone. A where-were-you-when-it-happened kind of event, like Pearl Harbor or President Kennedy's assassination.
But while some compared this to Pearl Harbor, Bailey voiced a frustration that must be echoing across the nation: Back then, the enemy was obvious; today, we as Americans want to strike back, but whom do we strike?
"What can we do about this?" he said.
More than 150 people linked hands and sang, "We Shall Overcome," in a vigil for peace at Westlake Park. Armed with posters saying, "Have no enemies. Find Common Ground. Respect Diversity. Work it out," and "Let's not compound tragedy with tragedy," organizers passed out fliers with Gandhi's words of nonviolence.
"Bomb. Bomb. Bomb. That's the answer to everything," said Michael Holden, 34, of Seattle, an organizer of the vigil. "There has to be a voice of reason in this, and that voice is that there has to be an end to violence."
Holding a sign, "Muslim people are good," Seattle resident Tim Nelson, 41, came to voice his thoughts. "When something like this happens, we all get scared and want to point the finger," he said, "and we usually point the finger at people who have the least ability to retaliate."
Hisham Farajallah, director of operations at the Skeihk Idriss Mosque in Northgate, said "fingerpointing by the sensational media" was hurting his community but that he was grateful for an outpouring of support from area churches.
In the International District, a Chinese immigrant and business owner said the U.S. should bomb whoever is responsible for the attack.
Nearby, Kimi Obha, buying prepared hot food at Uwajimaya, said she never goes to church but that she went yesterday. "I couldn't eat, I couldn't drink," she said. So she prayed. "That's all I can do for them."
A few blocks away, Johnny Hong, who came from Vietnam 26 years ago, said that America has now joined the rest of the world in its vulnerability.
"For a long time people think America is a safe country, but now it isn't," said Hong. "This incident can shake the whole world."
Alex Tizon can be reached at 206-464-2216 or email@example.com.
Times reporters Stuart Eskenazi, Eric Sorensen, Gina Kim, Nicole Tsong, Frank Vinluan, Keiko Morris, Alwyn Scott, Danny O'Neil, Peyton Whitely, Warren King, Jim Brunner, Tricia Duryee, Nyssa Rogers, Nancy Bartley, Bill Kossen, Sherry Grindeland, Peter Lewis, Judith Blake, Ralph Thomas, Sara Jean Green and Janet Tu contributed to this report.