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September 13, 2001

Sept. 11 attack: The campus reacts

Sept. 11, 2001, will be remembered as the day that sophisticated terrorist attacks destroyed or damaged major symbols of America, killing perhaps thousands of people and causing evacuations, airline shutdowns, phone-line jam-ups, fear and anxiety.

Americans watched, in chilling detail, slow-motion replays of two hijacked passenger planes, loaded with fuel for cross-country flights, exploding through the World Trade Center's twin towers, which collapsed a short time later. Other horrific images included smoke spewing from a badly damaged Pentagon Building, and a crater in Somerset County where another hijacked plane crashed, leaving no debris larger than a phonebook.

The White House was evacuated. Congress vacated the Capitol Building. The U.S. military worldwide was put on high alert. All domestic air flights were grounded.

The stock market closed.

All major and minor league baseball games were canceled.

Across the nation, U.S. flags flew at half-staff.

Pitt joined many Downtown businesses, restaurants and suburban malls in closing for the day. Pitt evacuated the Cathedral of Learning, canceled classes and permitted non-essential staff to leave early.

Many University events were affected:

* The dedication of the K. Leroy Irvis Archives and other events to honor the former speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, scheduled for Sept. 13 and 14, were postponed.

* Because of air traffic restrictions, some speakers for Pitt's Science 2001 symposium were unable to get to campus, although the Sept. 12-14 program is going forward.

* The inauguration of the new Student Government Board, set for Sept. 11, was postponed.

* Pitt athletics events through this weekend are postponed. The Panthers football game against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, scheduled for Sept. 15, has been re-scheduled for 1:30 p.m., Dec. 1 at Heinz Field. Re-scheduled dates for volleyball, soccer and cross country competitions will be announced at a later date.

Tomorrow, Sept. 14, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) is sponsoring an open forum on this week's terrorist attacks. The event, which features GSPIA faculty members Donald Goldstein and Paul Hammond, will be held at 3-5 p.m. in 2K56 Posvar Hall.

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg issued a statement to the University community on Sept. 12 that said, in part: "Yesterday, we all were reminded, in the most terrible way, of life's fragile nature."


Although Pitt closed Sept. 11, staff serving students were required to stay.

Joyce Giangarlo, associate director of Student Activities, said, "The biggest thing for us [Tuesday] was getting the information out. We wanted to have the latest news on Telefact [Pitt's information hotline; 4-8284]. The kids were gone and we had staff on the phones all day. From about 10:30 to 1:30 the phones were ringing off the hook about the tragedy.

"By about 2:30 or 3 p.m., things settled down. I think people had the information they needed and were by then turning on television or listening to the radio."

Giangarlo said Student Activities was more or less back to normal by yesterday. "I'm still stunned, though," she said.



Arts and Sciences grad Alyson Wallach, who was the 1998 Student Government president, is now assistant manager of Papyrus stationery and gift store, Grand Central Terminal, New York City. She wrote from NYC to reassure her family and friends:

"To the many of you who have written and called, thank you so very much. To everyone, your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated and encouraged still. At this moment, I still quite don't know what to say or how to react. That these attacks really occurred on American soil is as frightening as it is unnerving, as implausible as it is real.

"My story is no different from that of tens of thousands of New Yorkers. One by one the bits of news were revealed. Fear that we might be hit next ensued. All were evacuated. Without turning to look at the clouds of smoke, a mass exodus north and outward of Manhattan was made on foot, miles and miles into our respective boroughs in virtual silence, in an eerily orderly fashion.

"At this moment I am not aware of anyone I know personally who was either hurt or killed, but I am certain that in the days and weeks ahead that will change, for me, for you, for many people you know and love.

"My father asked me (Wednesday) if I wanted to come home. The truth is that I am home. This city is determined to make a stand. I am not afraid to stay.

"Everyone wants to do something to help. All I can suggest at this time is to give blood and pray. Pray for justice. Pray for national security. Pray for the foundation of our constitution and the fortitude of our government. Pray for our soldiers as they secure our nation. Pray for the countless victims, their families and friends. Pray for the heroes of acts large and small. Pray for the public servants. Pray for the terrorists, that those remaining may come to their senses. Pray for a sense of peace to come to all of those who are sitting restless now, aghast by the still of the night. And certainly, harbor your anger and thank God that you are alive and able to read this message today."



Robert Kormos, director of UPMC Health System's Thoracic Transplantation and Artificial Heart Transplantation Center and Pitt professor of surgery, was a friend of one of the victims in the United Airlines Flight 93 plane crash in Somerset County: Thomas E. Burnett Jr., 38, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Thoratec Corp.

"Tom Burnett was someone I knew through our work with Thoratec. Over the years we became good friends. Thoratec manufactures devices related to artificial hearts and they co-developed a number of products with our McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. There was a research collaboration between the two. I got to know Tom quite well. It's a great loss."



Rick Kinyon, vice president of EAP Solutions (umbrella group for Pitt's Faculty and Staff Assistance Program), said, "We're starting to get more calls today (Wednesday). We've had six calls, two from individuals who have lost loved ones. Some others who are either waiting for news or have heard and are in denial, but who are upset on the phone and want to make a counseling appointment.

"I think as this sinks in we'll see people for whom this will exacerbate a fear they already have of flying, and people with medical problems related to anxiety will need counseling.

"What an event like this does is to bring home our mortality, and it's not unusual for people to re-process earlier losses of loved ones. We've seen with other plane crashes that people were starting to re-grieve and not for loved ones who died violently, necessarily, but for the loss.

"This is unique, though. This is an external, purposeful attack. It's very different from a personal or local situation. I'm not sure how people will absorb that. I think people are re-grouping right now. I see more anger today (Wednesday) coming out. (Tuesday), it was mostly shock. But people don't know what to do and want to do something."



Penny Crary, director of Student Counseling Services, said: "We tried to be pro-active. We sent a staff member into every residence hall on campus, once we knew classes had been canceled, and they stayed there. We put a sign near the television in the Union that for counseling, students should just come up to our offices. We met with student groups like the Muslim students who might have been worried and wanted to talk to someone.

"We always have a psychologist on 24-hour call. You just call the campus police and they contact the counselor.

"I think we'll see the reverberations from this for a while. Maybe a delayed reaction. Or students may find themselves getting anxious or irritable or moody and won't even attribute it to this event.

"I think some students went home. In an urban environment there are a lot of resources: family, churches. Maybe in a few days when they come back to campus they'll want to talk to a counselor."



Steve Pederson, athletics director, said: "This tragedy has hit a nerve in every phase of our University and our athletic program. We have suspended competition in all of our sports through the weekend out of respect for our great losses. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt support go out to the victims and their families.

"President George Bush needs the full focus and support of our nation. Competition in athletics is not appropriate at this time."



One part of campus that didn't shut down was the health center.

"We were waiting to see if we were going to go into disaster mode, based on whether there were survivors of the plane crash" in Somerset County, said Frank Raczkiewicz, spokesperson for Health Sciences News Bureau. "We are a level-1 trauma center and are still on stand-by because we may or may not be getting patients from Washington or New York.

"In New York, we had two faculty (Vince Mosesso, UPMC Presbyterian emergency department physician, and Juan Carlos Puyana, UPMC Presbyterian trauma surgeon) who happened to be at a conference when the disaster struck and they worked to triage the victims there.

"Naturally, we had a lot of media calls for experts to comment. And we've had a lot of calls from doctors who want to volunteer. We are referring them to individual departments and to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which is coordinating volunteer action."

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 2

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