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Day of horror: a nation in shock

©Associated Press

The nation reeled in horror and security measures spun into effect as the work day began with a series of plane crashes that tore through the World Trade Center and left smoke billowing from the Pentagon.

"I'm very afraid. I don't feel safe," said Charlin Sims, taking a cigarette break outside her office in downtown Columbus, Ohio. "I want to hug my son."

Bells at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus rang for the victims, and flags were lowered to half-staff in many states. Nationwide, crowds gathered around television sets in airports, bars, hotel lounges. The space station commander could see the smoke rising above New York.

"My whole family's from Boston, and two are always flying," said Diane Morse, dialing her cell phone in tears in downtown Cleveland. "We always fly American." Relatives and friends worked at the twin towers, she said.

Government offices from coast to coast launched emergency preparedness operations, even as questions were raised about how what appeared to be a well-coordinated terrorist attack could be carried out.

"It's sort of like a terrorism movie you see on television," said terrorism expert Michael Gunter at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville.

Other planes were apparently hijacked and crashed, including one that crashed near Pittsburgh.

The memory of Pearl Harbor was offered up again and again, with all its images of sneak attacks, national honor and war.

"This is our second Pearl Harbor, right here in the nation's capital and New York City," a somber Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., said as he stood in a capitol park after his office building was evacuated.

Also speaking of Pearl Harbor were an airplane passenger stranded in Orlando, military veterans, a Wall Street worker fleeing the smoke and debris of the attack itself.

"Someone is trying to make a serious statement and I hope we do likewise," said Scott Gilmore at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

A World War II veteran in Nashville for a reunion of the U.S.S. Intrepid aircraft carrier was incensed. "I feel like going to war again. No mercy," said Felix Novelli, a New Yorker with friends who work at the World Trade Center. "We have to come together like '41, go after them."

"We're like everyone else, in shock," said Carol Windham, a spokeswoman at Birmingham International Airport in Alabama. Planes were grounded nationwide.

Heightened security went into effect at government and corporate offices -- at the Army's main germ warfare defense laboratory in Frederick, Md., city offices in Colorado and oil refineries in Louisiana.

Monuments like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis were closed.

"I don't think there's any place in America right now that's not at risk," said Andrew Hudson, a city spokesman in Denver, where emergency preparedness officials gathered in the basement of City Hall.

Students at Kansas State University in Manhattan skipped class to gather at television sets, sometimes with professors' blessing.

"It seems ridiculous that I would stand in front of my class talking about Plato when something this important is going on," said Laurie Bagby, an associate professor of political science.

In a Philadelphia hotel lounge, where dozens of people gathered to watch television coverage, a visitor from Texas wept.

"I can't believe what I'm seeing. I never thought I would see anything like this in my lifetime," said 20-year-old Beverly Evans of Dallas. "How can we stop something like this from happening?"

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