State, borough agencies ready for emergencies

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Shock waves from Tuesday's terrorist attack on the United States were felt by Kenai Peninsula legislators and their staff, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management and at the area American Red Cross office.

"I think, for the most part, everyone is on a heightened state of alert," said Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, chairman of the Alaska House of Representatives' Military and Veterans' Affairs committee. "I'm like everyone else, trying to get as much news as I can."

Several years ago, Chenault visited the World Trade Center, which was destroyed after being hit by two hijacked airplanes in Tuesday's attack and where some 50,000 people were employed.

"I've been on the top of the World Trade Center," he said. "I just can't conceive of it falling like it did."

Casualty totals are not known. However, Chenault said, "It just goes from bad to worse. With 50,000 people working there, it would be like the entire Kenai Peninsula population being gone in a heartbeat."

Although he has no family on the East Coast, Chenault said, "Like all Americans, I'm feeling grief right now for victims and their families."

Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, was relieved to hear from his daughter and her husband in Istanbul, Turkey.

"They just got there a few days ago," Lancaster said. "They're restricted to their hotel because no one knows who did this. But we feel real fortunate that they're OK. ... But, of course, our hearts and prayers go out to everyone. This is just the unspeakable. It's hard to imagine."

For the time being, he said his legislative meetings and travel plans had been canceled, as had personal plans to travel to Boston, Mass., in the next couple of weeks.

"That's too soon and too close for me," Lancaster said.

Loretta Brown, in the office of Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Nikiski, said her parents departed Kenai Monday evening for Palm Springs, Calif. However, their plans were interrupted as a result of the Federal Aviation Administration's order to close down airports across the United States as a result of Tuesday's events.

"They were pulled off their flight in Seattle this morning," Brown said on Tuesday. Her parents had rented an automobile and were headed for family in Oregon until they could resume their travel plans.

In the Kenai Legislative Information Office, Information Officer Marybea Byrne said things were very quiet. The Anchorage office was evacuated Tuesday morning, and a teleconference scheduled for Wednesday afternoon had been canceled.

Byrne also had family traveling. She was waiting to hear from her mother, who was grounded in Los Angeles, on her way to Hawaii.

Jan Henry, coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, was in his office by 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday after hearing news of the East Coast attacks. A teleconference with the Alaska Division of Emergency Services notified him and other community coordinators of impacts to Alaska.

"Everybody is starting to see the ripple effect of planes being grounded," Henry said. "It's causing problems with housing people in Anchorage. The local American Red Cross office has been asked to send disaster kits to Anchorage."

Henry said it is estimated that some 700 passengers were grounded in Anchorage.

"The only way peninsula residents can help at this point in time is by donating blood," Henry said. "That's something people can do in a positive way. Granted, they're not going to fly Alaska blood to New York, but they may be moving blood up from other areas, and so there will be sort of a domino effect."

Henry struggled to grasp Tuesday's destruction.

"It was just hard to believe what my eyes were seeing," he said of television news coverage. "The fact that those two towers collapsed is just amazing to me, that the damage was so severe, that they collapsed like that."

Henry said there was concern about the potential impact on Anchorage of cruise ship passengers arriving from Seward. However, Ron Long, who represents Seward on the borough assembly, said the next ship isn't due to arrive until Friday.

Debra Holle, branch manager for the Kenai Peninsula Red Cross, confirmed being asked to respond.

"We are in the process of mobilizing shelter operations for Anchorage," Holle said. "And we have also been asked for volunteers with shelter management training. One person has responded so far, and I am putting together a notice to my volunteer shelter managers right now."

She said the best help peninsula residents can offer is to donate blood. Although there have been no formal requests for monetary assistance, Holle said, the need for financial support is inevitable.

"We will be financing food and lightweight supplies, like personal needs," Holle said of support for travelers caught in Anchorage due to airport closures. "This is why Red Cross works on things in advance, so that we have adequate volunteer help."

Holle said anyone interested in disaster preparedness training can contact her at 262-4541.

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