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    Attack's aftershock felt across Florida

    Everywhere Tuesday, the rhythms of normal life were disrupted by the enormity of terrorism.


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 12, 2001

    Terror in the Northeast shut down much of Florida on Tuesday.

    The ripples hit tourist spots, universities, government offices and businesses across the state. The governor declared a state of emergency, Kennedy Space Center closed and went on maximum alert, malls turned away shoppers, blood centers drew huge lines of donors, and Floridians everywhere reconsidered their sense of security.

    The announcement blared from loudspeakers across Disney World: All Disney's theme parks, water parks and stores were shutting down "due to unforeseen circumstances." Having just finished the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disney's Magic Kingdom, Long Island, N.Y., resident Michael Cardello had no complaints after hearing the reason.

    "When you have large groups of people," he said, "you can be an easy target."

    All other major theme parks in Central Florida followed suit soon after, though most, including Tampa's Busch Gardens, are expected to reopen today.

    The state shut down universities, community colleges, seaports, airports and the Capitol complex in Tallahassee, but most government offices were expected to reopen today.

    "The best way to defeat terrorism is to get back to work serving our people and our state," said a somber and occasionally choked-up Gov. Jeb Bush, who was accompanied by a beefed-up security detail.

    He called the state of emergency declaration "a pre-emptive action ... to ensure that we're prepared for any eventuality." It aims to tighten security across the state, including a provision allowing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to seize personal property "as needed" as long as the state compensates the owner.

    FDLE Commissioner James T. "Tim" Moore said he had no specific information that anything in Florida would be targeted. But he said bomb threats had been received at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and at state offices in Orlando. No bombs were found.

    "Florida is in a unique situation," Moore said. "Our governor is the brother of the leader of the free world, and that naturally raises the level of concern that we all should have."

    Many businesses and government offices across the state expected to resume normal operations today, but said they wanted to play it safe in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

    Among banks, First Union and Wachovia, which it recently purchased, shut down for the day, citing concerns about business and customer safety. The bank said it expects offices to reopen today Bank of America set a $5,000 limit on cash withdrawals and evacuated some offices in high-rise buildings, including three in Tampa.

    Holland & Knight, the state's largest law firm, shut down all 28 of its offices across the country, including those in every large city in Florida. Windows were blown out in the firm's New York office across the street from the World Trade Center, but no one was injured.

    "We sort of erred on the safety side," said Steve Lind, director of operations for Holland & Knight. "Most of the offices for Holland & Knight are in high-rise skyscrapers, and we certainly don't want anything to happen to our employees."

    At the Kennedy Space Center -- another premier symbol of America -- NASA sent most of its 12,000 workers home and, for the first time, went to maximum security alert level. Tour buses were turned away. Helicopters patrolled the area, and guards set up security checkpoints in the rain.

    In orbit, work continued aboard the international space station. The three men aboard saw dark smoke billowing above New York City.

    Across the state, routine business came to a standstill Tuesday morning as the enormity of the event sank in.

    "When you work in a government building, you wonder, "Can we be next?"' said Tabbetha Harris, who works in the accounting office at Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa.

    In Tallahassee, a state House committee was midway through a discussion of manatee protection rules when the hearing room quickly emptied as people rushed to two TV monitors in the hallway.

    A woman broke into sobs as she turned away from a television monitor in the state Division of Elections office. An evacuation of the Capitol complex was ordered, and a Capitol police officer walked the deserted halls with a bomb-sniffing dog. Sergeants-at-arms went door to door, securing and locking offices.

    "In recognition of the tragedy that occurred in our country this morning, the speaker has directed that all House committee meetings be cancelled for today," said a recorded voice over the state Capitol public address system. "Members and district staff who are able to travel home are encouraged to do so to be with their families."

    With air travel grounded, rental cars were scarce in many areas, and the state Attorney General's Office began hearing complaints about price gouging for gasoline. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also set up a toll-free hotline for gouging complaints: 1-800-357-4273.

    Meanwhile, people may see delays in delivery of some mail, because of grounded commercial air flights.

    "We will be impacted by events today. A lot of our mail flies," said Tampa postal spokesman Gary Sawtelle. "It's all going to depend on how long the commercial fleet is grounded."

    - Times staff writers Julie Hauserman, Steve Bousquet, Alisa Ulferts, Anita Kumar, Helen Huntley, Bill Levesque, Mark Albright and Marlene Sokol contributed to this report, along with the Associated Press.

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