Sept. 11, 2021 — Originally published Sept. 12, 2001, in the Siuslaw News
The scene in Florence, Oregon, yesterday morning must have been similar to other small-town scenes playing out all over the country, as the news of hijacked passenger planes crashing into commercial and government centers started to sink in.
Workers on Maple Street were loading planks onto a truck. One of them said he’d visited New York two months ago, where he’d seen the World Trade Center.
“You can’t believe how tall it is,” he said.
At a bar on Bay Street, four patrons and the bartender were turned to the TV on the far wall. Rumors of other aircraft unaccounted for, one of them being tailed by fighter planes, circulated around the bar area.
On the wall, the TV news anchor began to interview an expert. After a few seconds, the expert turned around in his chair and crabbed at a group behind him about a loud television monitor making it hard for him to hear the questions.
The sight of the TV expert losing his grip struck everybody in the bar as comic, and we laughed—too loudly for the situation. Then the bar grew quiet again, except for the TV.
Outside on the street, a familiar dog lay in an empty parking place next to the sidewalk. A landscape company employee clipped old blooms from flowers in planters outside a row of shops. A couple jogged by in T-shirts and shorts.
At a coffee shop down the street, the bench outside was lined with early customers, smoking, drinking coffee, and all talking about the same thing.
“Now you know how people felt after Pearl Harbor,” somebody said.
One man speculated, with some satisfaction, that this would free the government’s hand to perform covert activities. In the next breath, he worried aloud, because his son is part of an Army Rangers team trained in covert military operations.
Another man adopted an apocalyptic attitude. He said he was going to hole up, drink and party, and wait for the end. He said that UFOs and alien intervention were the only hope for the world. The others listened quietly.
While the group was talking, a pickup pulled in close to the curb and a man got out and opened the lid to the truck bed.
A friend helped him unload a small TV and carried it into the coffee shop. Soon a semicircle of patrons inside had gathered around it, watching footage of the Pentagon burning.
A downtown restaurant’s main seating area was empty of customers. A pair of waiters stood around. They said that business was slow.
“They’re all watching TV,” he said. He nodded toward the bar area. “We’ve had customers, but they wanted to eat inside where the TV is.”
Up at one of the schools, a school secretary said that they were proceeding calmly through the normal schedule.
“The superintendent called and said we should downplay it,” she said. “A couple of kids have asked about it, and I said, ‘I’m sure the West Coast won’t be hit.’”
At the post office, acquaintances greeted each other as they stood in the usual lineup in front of the counter. Two were talking business. Another was asking a friend about her medical test results.
A dispatcher at the police station said that very little out of the ordinary had happened there.
“I only had one lady call, freaking out,” the dispatcher said. “She said, ‘I’m in my yard screaming, Kill the (terrorists)!’ So I connected her with mental health.”
An aide in the hospital’s emergency room said that all the nurses were busy and the doctors were in a meeting. She could imagine what medical personnel in New York City and elsewhere were facing.
“Something awful,” she said. “It’s all kind of a state of shock.”
Out at the airport, a group of men in the office were watching TV news.
One said that the FAA had just called, shutting down the runway. All airports in the country were closed, somebody else said, and the borders sealed.
They watched another replay of the jet crashing into the World Trade Center. They listened to the experts and the politicians.
“They know about as much as we do,” someone said.
Editor’s Note: Siuslaw News’ production day for its Wednesday editions is Tuesday. Twenty years ago, that meant a majority of staff dropped their planned assignments to respond to the national tragedy. Editorial staff checked in with community members and gathered data on the American Red Cross, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Oregon National Guard, local ministers planning a prayer service and Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber.