Ripples of a tragedy
Devastation caused by terrorist attacks felt
by Weekly Editorial Staff
after airplanes were grounded because of East Coast terrorist attacks
Tuesday, Menlo-Atherton High School students outside for P.E. class
were startled by the roar of an airliner overhead.
They looked up and recognized the words "Air France"
on the side of the plane, and then saw two fighter jets escorting
it toward San Francisco International Airport shortly after 11 a.m.
was kind of frightening, in a way, in that this is supposed to be
a free country," said Pam Wimberly, the M-A athletic director.
The mood at the Atherton high school was "kind of grim," Wimberly
said. "The kids were scared."
New York City and Washington, D.C. were thousands of miles away,
dealing directly with the devastation of the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon. On the Midpeninsula, residents grappled with the
emotional ripples of fear, sadness and unease.
Law enforcement and government officials swung into emergency
mode. Schools strived to make children feel safe, and people came
together for conversation, commiseration, and even prayer.
eerie pall hung in the air where people gathered in public places,
from grocery stores to restaurants. Conversations were held in low
tones, with little laughter.
At Mac's Smoke Shop in Palo Alto, a special "extra" edition of
the San Jose Mercury News screamed "ATTACK!"
Stores posted "closed" signs, concerts and plays were cancelled,
as well as high school and some college sporting events.
Parking places were easily had in even the busiest sections of
downtown Palo Alto Tuesday afternoon.
Stanford Shopping Center gave stores the option of closing for
the day. The only businesses that remained open were Bloomingdale's
"It (was) just really out of respect for the tragic event that
took place (Tuesday), said Robyn Urvinitka, marketing director at
the center. The closure was unprecedented for the shopping center,
which normally closes only on Christmas Day and Easter.
Threat to Stanford libraries
about 9:35 a.m., Stanford police received an anonymous call from
a man telling them "Hoover library will be gone in an hour." Sgt.
Laura Wilson said police evacuated and cordoned off Meyer and Green
libraries. After the telephone call was reviewed, police realized
the man was specifically referring to Hoover, which then was also
evacuated until about 12:40 p.m.
rest of the campus remained open at the discretion of each department.
President John Hennessy released a statement saying he wanted to
reassure the campus community that "the university's senior leadership
has been considering the best ways to ensure the safety and security
of students, faculty and staff in the wake of these events." He
said the university's senior staff would continue to assess the
situation over the coming days.
City of Palo Alto in emergency mode
Parked police motorcycles lined Ramona Street in Palo Alto after
the police department emptied its basement garage area as a precaution.
Other emergency equipment, including fire apparatus and ambulances,
was parked around City Hall.
Inside, the mayor and city officials reassured the public of their
safety in the city.
heightened police presence was apparent at numerous city facilities,
and the city set up a public information hotline to keep residents
In front of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo's Forest Avenue office, a
California Highway Patrol car guarded the area, as they are doing
for all members of Congress.
Eshoo posted a letter to her constituents on her Web site. "We
are stronger than the atrocity of this attack. We will move through
this united and emerge even stronger. To every family who is suffering
immediate loss or injury, our collective prayers are with you. Every
American today is asking God to humbly bless America."
City Manager Frank Benest declined to comment on where police
were posted, however, Palo Alto utilities director John Ulrich said
security around the city-owned utilities was stepped up.
"There is heightened security at utility sites around town," Ulrich
said Tuesday. "Our emergency plans have this already in place."
Mayor Sandy Eakins was joined by council members Bern Beecham,
Nancy Lytle, Dena Mossar, Judy Kleinberg, Jim Burch and Vic Ojakian.
Councilman Gary Fazzino was stranded in Washington, D.C. He was
scheduled to fly home Sunday from Newark -- by morbid coincidence
on Untied Airlines Flight 93, the same flight that was hijacked
Tuesday and later crashed in Pennsylvania.
Eakins said the city took precautions because it is "not playing
"We are letting people know we are utilizing the emergency plans
we developed over the years," she said.
Benest, however, said nothing had happened to spark the city's
emergency response operations plan.
"We've not received any specific threats, but we are taking a
number of precautions," Benest said. "We've put additional fire
personnel on standby."
The city also beefed up security at City Hall, posting a police
officer at the main entrance, and only employees have access to
elevators, Benest said.
"We've coordinated emergency response with the Palo Alto Unified
School District," he said. "And we've coordinated with the Independent
System Operators (ISO) who operate the statewide electric grid."
Palo Alto Police Chief Pat Dwyer said the department will increase
staffing for the next few days.
"We want to convey (to the public) they are safe and secure in
their home and business," he said.
Besides setting up a information hotline, the city is posting
information on its Web site as well as providing information to
KZSU radio and cable channel 26. The city is also e-mailing information
to all the neighborhood associations so it can be dispersed on list
"We want everybody to remain calm," Benest said.
"We need to pull together and be tolerant of each other," he said.
Schools provide "stability"
Palo Alto schools stayed open Tuesday, "as we feel that the community
looks to us for a sense of security and a sense of stability," said
Assistant Superintendent Irv Rollins.
said district officials were in close contact with city and police
officials. The school board meeting scheduled Tuesday night was
cancelled, as were scheduled "Back to School" nights at district
Rollins said school psychologists and counselors at every school
were available to meet with children who were anxious or sad.
Some parents called the schools with questions, and a few chose
to keep their children home from school. But most students went
to class. All sent a letter home to parents explaining how events
were handled and offering tips on talking with children about the
Ruth Malen, principal at Duveneck Elementary school, said her
school's goal was to "maintain normal routines and structures at
school and to encourage parents to do the same at home."
She said teachers were given discretion to talk with children
in their classes about the events if it seemed appropriate. Generally
speaking, older children wanted to spend more time discussing the
events, while younger children needed only brief explanations, Malen
The community responds
Stanford Blood Center was overwhelmed with nearly 1,000 potential
donors Tuesday to the point where staff asked many of them to come
back next week when more blood may be needed.
The Stanford Blood Center sites in both Palo Alto and Mountain
View faced standing-room only crowds all day Tuesday as residents
responded to the crises. The two centers obtained a total of 250
Leslie White, a housewife and mother of two, was one of the more
than 150 donors who went to the Stanford Blood Center in Palo Alto
Tuesday. White said she felt "helpless" seeing the television images
of such large acts of terrorism hitting so close to home.
Going to the center to donate blood "seemed like one small thing
I could do," White said.
Tuesday afternoon, blood collected from the Stanford center was
being sent to Sacramento Medical Foundation Blood Center. Five hundred
units of blood from Sacramento were being sent cross country in
a fire truck, to aid hospitals in New York facing critical blood
Area donations are thereby "helping by proxy," according to Michele
Gassaway, the center's community and media relations coordinator.
said the Stanford center was asking people to call for appointments
"to make sure we have an adequate supply if it is needed."
"Donations made a day from now or a week from now are just as
important as ones made today," Gassaway said Tuesday.
Nine local Red Cross volunteers trained in mental health aid for
disasters were on standby on Tuesday, ready to be called to any
of the scenes of destruction. According to Red Cross Public Relations
Manager Deepa Arora, many others called, telling her, "this is what
I'm trained for -- how can I help?"
"The local response has been tremendous," Arora said.
She told one story of a man walking in to hand the Red Cross his
$600 tax refund check.
Residents respond spiritually
An impromptu candlelight vigil was set up inside Stanford's Memorial
Church. The painted images of the angels of Love, Faith, Hope, and
Charity sat atop the church and looked down on the worried and huddled
believers as they flocked inside.
throughout the area opened their doors to the public to allow them
to pray and reflect, and many scheduled prayer services this week.
peace vigil at Stanford's White Plaza drew nearly 100 people.
Rebecca Trotzky-Sirr, an Stanford undergraduate who organized
the vigil, led those in attendance in expressing sorrow over the
massive loss of life and calling for the U.S. government to avoid
shedding more blood in retaliation.
She warned against jumping to conclusions about the identity or
ethnicity of the terrorists. "Will people change the way they feel
about justice because of terror?" she asked.
in the group shared their thoughts on the day's events and the possibilities
that the coming days hold.
Some in the group criticized American policy in Israel and other
parts of the world, saying it fostered conditions of oppression
-- though they stopped short of saying those conditions acted directly
as fuel for Tuesday's attacks.
One of the final speakers echoed the sentiments of many in attendance.
"My hope is that Americans will walk away at least learning something."
Students find positive way to respond
Even students responded to the violence in the East Coast.
More than 120 Menlo-Atherton High School students gathered in
front of their school Wednesday afternoon to light candles and offer
a moment of silence for those who died or are suffering in the wake
of Tuesday's tragedy.
In front of the school in a corner cordoned off by the Menlo Park
Fire Department, students arranged small, tea-light candles to spell
"peace" and laid a yellow rose beneath the letters.
Most students, wearing white ribbons pinned to their shirts, huddled
quietly around the candles. Others stood back to watch or shared
a hug with a friend. Through loudspeakers a Bob Marley song, "One
Love" was playing, with the lyrics, "Let's get together and feel
Along a row of large cement blocks -- usually used as benches
-- students had written in chalk a dedication: "For all the loved
ones lost in this tragedy."
Student leaders said the idea came about spontaneously as they
were talking in their leadership class. The candle-lighting was
first and foremost a tribute to those who died. But senior Emilia
Cerrillo and sophomore Ian Thatcher hoped to send a message of peace.
Both said they were concerned by President George W. Bush's recent
address calling for retaliation against terrorists and those who
"We were talking about how, if we could just forgive, how much
of a difference that would make," Cerrillo said. "For the U.S.,
the only superpower now, to say that, would be a great step toward
peace and ending the violence."
Senior Blake Cooper, co-student body president, stood before the
students and read a quotation from Gandhi: "Through darkness light
shines, through death life shines."
"We will make light shine here, we will make life shine here,"
Co-president, senior Stephanie Schwab, told her peers that although
the events in New York and Washington, D.C. might seem far removed
from their lives at school, there were lessons to be learned. She
says fights on their own highly diverse campus, though small by
comparison, share the same motivations: hatred and intolerance for
those who are different.
"Look what 'I don't like you because you don't look like me' can
turn into," she said. "We need to represent what we want our country
to be like."
Afterward, Schwab said if there was a bright side to be found
in the recent tragedies, it was watching how students at her school
are pulling together. "This was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing,"
she said. "Just seeing how students do care shows to me there is
hope our generation is going to be OK."
Younger children responded as well.
Students at Juana Briones Elementary School in Palo Alto gave
up their precious recess time Wednesday to create cards for New
York firefighters and police officers. The first- through fifth-graders
used colored pens and pencils, scissors, paste and paper to make
cards with such messages as "God Bless You," "Thank You" and "Help
Fifth-grade teacher Halimah van Tuyl encouraged the children to
find an outlet for their feelings about Tuesday's disaster, and
the card-creating idea was born. Ten minutes before recess, van
Tuyl's students brought signs to the other classrooms encouraging
other children to take part.
"We talked about things we could do to help bring comfort to ourselves
and to everyone effected by the tragedy. It's an example of their
big hearts. Something positive they can do in the face of all of
this destruction," van Tuyl said.
Principal Gary Dalton acknowledged the influence of the media
on children and strongly supported van Tuyl's idea.
"This gives them some sense of control in a situation that really
defies control," Dalton said.
Second-grader Elizabeth Reynolds drew a picture of a fairy, which
she called the "Help America fairy," and fifth-grader Julia Moser's
card portrayed a red-white-and-blue heart and the words "God Bless
"They've done a wonderful thing for the country and we want to
thank them for risking their lives to help save those people," Moser
Once completed, van Tuyl and the students will mail the cards
to fire and police stations in New York City.
Technology also played a role. Teens throughout Palo Alto used
the America Online Instant Messenger, a real time Internet "chat"
system, to talk to each other about their connections to the terrorist
Black mark on the day
Anti-Palestinian graffiti was found at Gunn High School Tuesday
morning, written in felt pen on a long cardboard box.
The vandal had written a message, using profanity, telling Palestinians
to "go home," said Gunn High School Principal Scott Laurence. The
box had been set upright along the east wall of Spangenberg Auditorium,
early Tuesday morning. At 9 a.m., custodians spotted the box and
brought it inside.
"It was a misdirected backlash against a group of people," said
Laurence. "It's wrong."
The school district has not determined who is responsible for
Laurence said he warned teachers to "watch closely" for students
who might respond to the tragedy with angry outbursts.
But staff also saw an opportunity to turn the negative incident
into something more positive. "It was a wonderful time for us, as
a learning institution, to teach about Pearl Harbor and the reaction
against the Japanese, and the best way to handle angry emotions
when you're in a really unsettling set of circumstances."
Tuesday was, of course, difficult for students and staff, as they
tried to process the events of the day. Laurence said he visited
40 to 50 classrooms in the first hour of school and saw people "experiencing
a wide range of emotions."
In most classrooms, students and teachers were watching TV, listening
to the radio or holding discussions. As the day went on, classrooms
almost systematically fell back into their usual routines, he said.
Even as the high school returns to "business as usual," teachers
are being asked to carefully monitor their students, who may be
struggling to cope with the tragedy.
Stanford physicist says building core melted
The two planes that hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center
hit with the force of an atomic bomb, according to Stanford physicist
The World Trade Center towers were designed to withstand being
hit by an airplane, but not as large as those that hit, said Block,
who is a professor of applied physics and biological sciences and
an expert on national security and terrorism.
According to Block's calculations, the energy generated by a fuel-laden
Boeing 757 or 767 colliding into a World Trade Center tower is roughly
equivalent to one-20th of the energy of the atomic bomb dropped
on Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945.
"It's a staggering amount of energy," Block said. "Any aircraft
is essentially a flying bomb."
According to Block, the World Trade Center twin towers were designed
to withstand "enormous impacts," including being hit by a hurricane
or an airplane.
Block said he doubted there were any structural flaws in the design
of the twin towers. The plane could have inflicted major structural
damage to the periphery of the towers, including passing through
an entire floor or knocking out the steel girders on the outside,
and still the buildings would have remained standing.
What most likely caused the buildings to collapse was damage to
their steel cores, said Block, who acknowledged his expertise does
not extend to mechanical engineering.
Block said the explosion appeared to have "heated the core of
the building to such a degree that it began to melt." When the melting
steel core could no longer support the hundred or more floors above,
the buildings collapsed.
Ignited fuel generated 90 percent of the energy in the explosion,
Block said. A Boeing 767's fuel capacity is roughly 23,980 gallons,
and a Boeing 757 carries roughly 11,466 gallons of fuel.
Block said it was a likely possibility that terrorists had intentionally
taken over planes scheduled to travel across the country because
they'd be carrying more fuel and would therefore cause more devastating
explosions upon impact. <@ENDBULLET>
The following Weekly staff members contributed
to this story: Jennifer Deitz Berry, Carol Blitzer, Geoff Fein,
Tyler Hanley, Robyn Israel, Don Kazak, Adam Levermore-Rich, Elizabeth
Lorenz, Keith Peters, Daryl Savage and Pam Sturner. Mountain View
Voice reporter Bill D'Agostino also contributed.