Sept. 11 prompted local relief efforts, fear of travel

By Julie Fann
star staff

On Sept. 11, 2001, America experienced its first attack on civilian soil since the war of 1812. Though some have compared Pearl Harbor to what happened in New York City, that event occurred on a military base, not on civilian territory.
   As a result, Americans were/are shocked and terrified. Though we are very familiar with what it means to be the perpetrator of such violence, being the recipient of it is altogether appalling.
   On the local level, citizens rushed to do something to help. Area hospitals and Red Cross chapters received a plethora of phone calls from those wishing to donate blood, money, time, anything to curb pain.
   Leigh McKeehan, executive of the Red Cross chapter in Elizabethton, said the largest donation the office received was a large supply of leather-palmed gloves for firefighters from Snap-On Tools.
   "I mean, it was cases and cases of them. When we do in-kind donations, it has to be a bulk thing before we can do anything," McKeehan said. The local office immediately shipped the gloves to New York.
   Monetary Red Cross donations from Elizabethton citizens totaled $2,800. After Sept. 11, the Red Cross has received criticism from victims of not only the terrorist attacks but also natural disasters. Lawsuits have resulted from those claiming they were denied benefits.
   McKeehan said auditors McCurry, Downer, and Cline inspected paperwork to determine funds were legitimate. She said all monies were sent to the home office in Nashville.
   According to McKeehan, a local Red Cross family services counselor was sent to New York City to help those residents who had lost family members cope with financial loss.
   "One of our counselors went up there and made home visits. She checked to see what immediately needed to be taken care of, things like rental assistance in the event that the main bread-winner had been killed," McKeehan said. "She couldn't talk about it at all when she returned; it was so painful."
   The Elizabethton Red Cross chapter also held three counseling sessions on bioterrorism concerns and mailed out information to reassure citizens.
   Community Services Block Grant Director Morris Baker said food distributed to the needy in Carter County was delayed for one day because National Guard Armories shut down after the attacks. However, since that time, his office has seen an increase in those seeking financial help.
   "With the layoffs that have occurred since that time period, we've had more clients coming in needing help with rent and utilities. Right now, we're conducting a needs assessment, so I don't have exact numbers," Baker said.
   Ironically, Baker stated that an increased percentage of those who receive higher incomes are coming to his office. "We see families of four trying to survive on $22,625 a year. That's not a bad salary until you include the kids," he said.
   CSBG Neighborhood Service Centers distribute USDA commodity food stuffs such as applesauce, beans and peanut butter.
   Kathy Bowman, nursing supervisor at the Carter County Health Department, said a lot of calls were made regarding a request for anthrax and smallpox vaccinations.
   "Because of all the media, people were just calling to see if they could get it, but it's not available yet," she said.
   Local travel agencies experienced a downward spiral after Sept. 11. Sheila Truman, a travel agent for Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Elizabethton, said there was a drastic downturn in travel bookings but that by December the percentages increased.
   Leonard Passmore, owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel on Mountcastle Drive in Johnson City, said cruises and tours went up dramatically, but that area air travel bookings reflected those of the entire nation for a few months.
   "What we saw was about a 40 percent reduction in airline travel. It's down still about 15 percent. We're just now starting to see international tours come back," Passmore said.
   Bookings for Sept. 11, 2002, aren't stellar either, according to a study conducted by Carlson Wagonlit associates. Forty-five percent of respondents surveyed said they were specifically avoiding the date; the other 40 percent offered no explanation.
   Sept. 11 prompted the merging of Carlson Wagonlit Travel with Colony Travel, due to economic downturn and the need for revenue.
   "You must have strength and size to weather a storm like that. We also acquired an agency in Greeneville and one in Kingsport. They transferred their bookings to us and closed their doors because of what happened," he said.
   Area churches responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by asking members to donate money through special offerings or by holding prayer services. Dwayne Dickson, pastor of First Christian Church in Mountain City, said his church collected just under $3,500.
   "We wanted to make sure it got into the hands of the families who lost people in the Trade Center. I called a minister at a church in New York. He said he had two families who needed help. Me and my wife took our offering up there and gave it to those families," Dickson said.
   Dickson and his wife also visited ground zero and were moved by the devastation. "It was still smoldering. And people in New York City aren't usually very talkative, but they were really open, wanting to talk about it and receive some comfort," he said.