Officials continue heightened security measures in Alaska

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The nation's skies were reopened to air travel Thursday but service in Alaska -- as well as the rest of the nation -- was expected to remain disrupted for some time.

While some major airlines were expected to begin limited flight schedules Thursday, including United Airlines, American Airlines and TWA, it was unclear when Alaska Airlines would resume flying.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta ordered new security measures for both airports and air carriers after Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Though airspace remained restricted, three of Alaska's airports late Wednesday afternoon received clearance to again open.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Joette Storm said Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Juneau International Airport and Ketchikan International Airport were cleared to receive flights after inspection by the agency's Civil Aviation Security Division.

Alaska on Wednesday evening received permission from the FAA to open airports for travel to rural villages, remote hunting camps and other locations highly dependent on air travel.

Melanie Alvord, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, said her boss spoke with Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey on Wednesday to make a personal appeal to approve waivers sent by the FAA Alaska regional office.

Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, commissioner of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said Wednesday the effect on rural communities so far was minimal. However, ''The longer we restrict them, the worse they'll get,'' Oates said.

Relief officials were gearing up for another night of taking care of stranded airline passengers. Grace Community Church hosted 226 people from a Continental Airlines flight and a China Airlines flight, plus 30 independent travelers.

Scott Merriner, administrative pastor, said half of the passengers could be moved to hotels Wednesday night but many would remain. ''I expect a good chunk of them will be here,'' he said.

Most of the visitors boarded buses Wednesday for a four-hour tour of Portage Glacier, Girdwood and other destinations.

''I think they felt they were well cared for,'' Merriner said.

Among the guests aboard the China Airlines flights were 15 infants. Merriner said relief workers thought at first that they were orphans. However, translators learned the babies were on their way to live with their extended families.

''The folks who are taking them, in most cases, are not the parents,'' he said.

Some of the only aircraft to fly Wednesday were military jets. Air Force pilots flew over Anchorage, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline terminal in Valdez, and other Alaska locations deemed critical installations. The military aircraft planned to continue ''air superiority missions'' ready to intercept hijacked aircraft, Oates said.

Among the allowed flights: an Air National Guard C-130 from Kulis Alaska National Guard Base to McChord Air Force Base in Washington carrying samples of more than 400 units of blood donated to the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage.

Responding to an appeal for blood following the attacks, the blood bank had 708 people offer to donate blood Tuesday. The bank collected 474 units. The response was so strong that the bank collected no new blood Wednesday but scheduled appointments for Thursday and the rest of the week.

''We're in kind of a holding pattern,'' said spokesman Gregg Schomaker.

Blood must be sampled for purity within 72 hours after it's donated. The blood bank usually sends samples south on board Alaska Airlines.

Schomaker said more samples would be sent Wednesday night. Once the blood is tested, it could be released to Alaska hospitals or sent east to help casualties in the terrorist attacks.

''We're waiting to hear from national headquarters,'' Schomaker said.

In Juneau, Gov. Tony Knowles offered search and rescue dogs trained in wilderness rescue to New York and Virginia officials for help in the recovery of victims.

In letters to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York Gov. George Pataki and Virginia James Gilmore, Knowles said 12 dogs and handlers could be mobilized quickly and sent to the disaster sites. The dogs are trained in avalanche, disaster and water search and rescues.

In Valdez, the Coast Guard captain of the port lifted all restrictions on oil tanker traffic. The Coast Guard on Tuesday ordered all tanker loading halted and directed three tankers to depart the port.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. received permission to resume loading at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Later in the morning, the tankers Overseas Chicago and B/T Alaska took on oil.

The Coast Guard assigned the cutter Roanoke Island to Port Valdez to provide additional security in the area. Alyeska also continues a heightened level of security.

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