Rockford reacts in national emergency

Rockford reacts in national emergency

By Frank Schier

By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

As the nation reeled under the impact of airliners crashing into New York City’s World Trade Center towers, Washington, D.C.’s Pentagon, and around several other cities, Rockford and Winnebago County reacted.

Sheriff Dick Meyers said, “We have two priorities: one, to monitor at the federal level what’s going on with the national scene; two, to tighten security here, where we can.

“We have an emergency plan that encompasses all potentials. We have tightened security around the courthouse and the Public Safety Building. We are in contact with the Illinois Emergency Management Association, IEMA. They are communicated to by the Federal Emergency Management Association, FEMA.

“Basically, what we’re doing here is putting all facilities on high-alert status, any high-profile building.

“From what I’ve heard, the state building in Chicago and the state building in Springfield have been evacuated. The key words here are ‘heightened alert’ on all key buildings,” said Meyers.

As to his personal assessment of all of Tuesday’s tragedies, Meyers said, “Certainly, devastating. I can’t describe this with any other word, just devastating.”

The implications of the national tragedy came to Rockford with the utilization of the Greater Rockford Airport, immediately after the two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers.

City of Rockford Communications Coordinator John Strandin said several planes “have landed on the ground as of 8:30, quarter to 9. The FAA ordered them to land at the nearest airport.

“When I talked to Loomis, they were bringing in food. He was more worried about ground transportation to Chicago. The planes are stuck here,” said Strandin.

At 11 a.m., other sources identified the planes as a 767 United flight and a 757 National Airlines flight.

Steve Nicholson, deputy director of operations maintenance, said the planes flew from the East Coast and O’Hare. The two planes carried a total of 215 passengers. Nicholson didn’t know when the planes would be able to depart again.

“The Rockford Bomb Squad is here. We have Rockford, state and FBI units here, and they are getting ready to unload. If anything happens, it was nice knowing you,” said one source.

Chuck and Kathy Marston, residents of Lombard, Ill., were en route to Hawaii with a stop in California. “I’m glad we landed,” Kathy Marston said. “I feel safe.” She described the situation as “very scary.”

The Marstons are using a rental car to travel back to Lombard, which is 20 miles east of Chicago. They will find out whether the flight will be honored and hope to follow through with travel plans as soon as possible.

FBI Special Agent Dan Dubree said, “We don’t have any comment this morning; besides that, we are working. We are not in the federal building, so I don’t know if they are evacuated. I don’t have any other comment at this time, and we are very busy right now.”

A staffer at Federal District Court Judge Philip Reinhard’s office said, “The office is closed,” and then hung up. As of 11:30 a.m., the federal building was closed.

At a 1 p.m. press conference held by all local officials, Rockford Mayor Doug Scott announced that the state building was closed and that courts were closed at 1 p.m.. Both Scott and Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn said that staff was still on duty, but the offices were closed to the public.

“We don’t have any information that anything is going to happen in the Rockford area,” Scott said.

Rockford Police Chief Jeff Nielsen said, “There is no threat to the community. The streets are quiet, and that’s what we expect.”

Greater Rockford Airport Director James

Loomis said that in the future, it would be “tougher to get on airplanes.” He said new technology was being developed to screen people and baggage, development of which he expected to be pushed forward because of Tuesday’s events.

“Personally speaking, this is an act of terrorism and an act of war,” said Loomis.

Cohn said, “Pain, hurt and sorrow” will continue over these national tragedies, and echoed Scott’s call to contribute blood and support everyone affected.

Scott gave the Red Cross number, 1-877-RED-CROSS, for those affected by the plane crashes, and the local blood bank number, 965-8751, for those who wish to answer the national call for blood donations.

Members of various clergy associations were present at the afternoon press conference at the Public Safety Building. The clergy said their churches would be open for prayer services and offered their prayers.

After-school activities were cancelled for all area schools, as were second shifts at Woodward Governor, UPS and MCI World Com.

Rockford School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Brown said that staff counselors would be available to people who needed them.

Scott, Cohn, Meyers, Neilsen and the FBI’s Dubree, all stress the success and great degree of cooperation of all agencies reacting to Tuesday’s events.

“Flags have been lowered to half mast at City Hall, by order of the Mayor,” said Strandin.

Shellie Berg also contributed to this story.

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