Pints and prayers for victims, vigilance at border

Published on Thu, Sep 13, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Pints and prayers for victims, vigilance at border

By Meg Olson

On the morning of September 11, local residents woke to the shocking news that three hijacked passenger aircraft had crashed into targets in New York and Washington D.C. as the work day began there. The world trade center towers were collapsing in billows of smoke and fire. Flames shot from a massive gash in the Pentagon. The number of injured and dead, from passengers and crew on the planes, to workers in the buildings and people on the street, fluctuated with speculation and growing rescue efforts, and kept mounting.

As the country reeled from the worst attack on its own territory at least since Pearl Harbor, perhaps ever, a blast of heightened security closed airports across the country, froze borders and closed offices and schools.
At the Blaine ports of entry, vehicles were turned away briefly Tuesday morning as agencies were put on the highest alert level. “Customs has raised its threat level to level one – the highest,” said U.S. Customs port director Peg Fearon. “We are increasing our exams to the most stringent level. Air assets are on alert and criminal investigators are on alert in support of FBI efforts.”

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) regional representative Virginia Kice said only the Lynden border had experienced a closure after inspectors found a suspicious package. The border was re-opened when it was found to be a false alarm. “We are taking appropriate measures,” she said, but declined to discuss them due to security concerns.

INS district director Bob Coleman said PACE commuter lanes were now closed as part of heightened security measures. “That’s premature,” Coleman said when asked if increased security could affect the program. “It’s closed now for very valid reasons.The INS has no plans tocancel or permanently close PACE as the public understands it.” Coleman said the INS and other federal agencies wouldcoordinate to make day-by-day determoinations of security needs at the border following Tuesday’s attacks.

In a morning conference call, Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic and representatives from other cities spoke with governor Gary Locke about potential threats to Washington communities. “The feeling was that it’s important for government operations in our state to continue,” Tomsic said. “We need to give a signal there is no panic. They haven’t shut us down.” Tomsic said he had closed the Blaine airport in line with a closure of all U.S. airspace but had elected to keep all other city functions running. Blaine schools were also open.

By afternoon, Blaine police were deployed to the Boblett Street intersection to manage growing traffic backlogs. Public safety director Bill Elfo said that, while there was no specific threat to Washington communities, local police would be working with federal and other local agencies to increase visiblility and security.

Besides their prayers, local residents are offering help in many ways to vicims of Tuesday’s tragedy. Puget Sound blood center has been swamped with donors, according to Marc Clemens of the state emergency management center. He said Red Cross representatives were asking people to call 671-8848 or 800/633-2831 for an appointment to donate blood to insure long-term blood supply is maintained.

“We are also taking lists of people interested in volunteering,” said Glenda Thompson of the local Red Cross. She added monetary donations for the agency’s disaster relief fund are also needed. Sterling Savings bank on H Street has set up an account where donations to the fund can be made locally.

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