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    After shocks of disbelief, anger shake Tampa Bay area

    As people here learn of the events, their reactions range from stunned amazement to growing anger and a sense of resolve.

    By CRAIG PITTMAN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 12, 2001


    Sharon Wagner cried as she drove home from Tampa International Airport on Tuesday.

    photo
    [Times photo: James Borchuck]
    Two men suspend their workouts Tuesday at Golds Gym on 38th Avenue N in St. Petersburg to watch news reports of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
    A veteran flight attendant for Continental Airlines, she listened to the reports of crashing jets and collapsing buildings on her car radio and thought of all the people she knew who might be victims of the worst terrorist attack in American history.

    "I'm just very distraught," she explained. "All my friends are in New York. I can't get hold of anyone. Everything's shut down."

    Throughout Tuesday, waves of fear, uncertainty and anger spread across the Tampa Bay area like an aftershock from a distant earthquake. People stopped in their tracks to gape at the stunning scenes on television or press one another for the latest news. They tied up telephone lines trying to check on relatives and debated who could have done such a horrible thing.

    In Tampa, police in full riot gear surrounded City Hall. In Hudson, 88 people stood in line to donate blood. In St. Petersburg, workers in a body repair shop formed a circle and prayed.

    At the Renaissance Vinoy hotel in St. Petersburg, guests Frank Ramiriz and Carlos Cano from Puerto Rico were worried about flying home.

    "When you don't know really what's happening or who's in control, it's scary," Ramiriz said.

    [Times photo: Krystal Kinnunen]
    Jaia Stidd, admissions director at the Suncoast-Waldorf school in Clearwater, makes sure a friend who was traveling Tuesday is safe.
    Watching the first reports of the attacks, "I felt helpless," said Kevin Fleming, standing outside the Tampa Electric Co. building in downtown Tampa. "It's like a movie, but in a movie you can just get up and leave the theater."

    For Amina Krijestarac, the attacks carried a disturbing echo of her past. She waited behind the wheel of her sport utility vehicle in front of North Shore Elementary School in St. Petersburg so she could pick up her daughter, Aida, who is in the first grade there. As she listened to the radio, she was near tears.

    "We are here from Bosnia," she explained in heavily accented English. Her family fled the instability and aftermath of war, bound for America, for what they thought was a safe place.

    "We have been done with war for five years," she said. "This is our second home. This is our home. This is terrifying, and believe me, I have been through it."

    Cary Frame, 42, a toll supervisor for the Veterans Expressway eating lunch at Ballyhoo's restaurant in Citrus Park, said he was initially just angry.

    "Now I'm just sick to my stomach," he said. "It's time to blow somebody up. Don't go after individuals. Blow up cities and you're bound to get them."

    Carrollwood barber Ralph Monaco watched the TV in his shop in disgust.

    "What cowards," the native New Yorker said of the terrorists. "They should go after these people and start wiping them out."

    Dallas Wright, who has shined shoes at the Bank of America building in downtown St. Petersburg for eight years, divided his time between listening to the radio at his stand and watching TV on the second floor with other building employees. This was not a day for shining shoes.

    "I don't expect any business today," he said. "Everyone's got their mind on world war."

    At Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg, someone set up a TV outside the Zales jewelry store that drew dozens of passersby. Inside a candy store called Sweets from Heaven, radio bulletins reporting the mayhem made for a bitter contrast. At Foot Locker, the usual blare of music videos was replaced with somber footage from New York.

    The shutdown of the nation's airports grounded the usual flurry of takeoffs and landings at Skydive City in Zephyrhills.

    "It's really quiet out here, one of the quietest days ever," Zephyrhills airport manager Jim Werme said. "There is not one plane in the air. The radio is dead silent. We normally hear chatter from 12 airports. It's stone cold quiet."

    But at the normally quiet TV and Music Center in St. Pete Beach, workers from nearby offices jammed in to watch the unfolding drama. A customer whose TV was being repaired came to pick it up. It wasn't ready, so he left. Ten minutes later he came running back. He had borrowed $100 from a co-worker at Gulf Beach Cleaners.

    "Give me the cheapest TV you got," he said. "We're all in the dark over there. I've got to have a TV NOW!" The owner sold him a used 20-inch Sony and he ran out, calling over his shoulder, "I've got people in hysterics over there!"

    With malls shut down, theaters closed and baseball games postponed to another day, there was little to do all day besides watch the same horrific TV footage over and over again. The scenes of destruction reminded some people of the Challenger explosion, others of the assassination of John F. Kennedy or even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    To Lizzette Infanzon, Pearl Harbor was just a summer movie. The 21-year-old University of South Florida student has heard her parents talk about the day Kennedy was shot, but to her that didn't seem real, either. Then she heard radio reports about Tuesday's attacks and saw classmates walking across the St. Petersburg campus crying.

    "I personally never thought I would live through anything like this," Infanzon said. "I just don't know how to process it yet ... My generation always looked at America as untouchable. But as we can see now, we're not."

    In the Citrus County community of Beverly Hills, Geoff Moore and Justin Winch stepped outside the Winn-Dixie for a smoke break and talked about how the attack might alter their future.

    "If this means war, I wouldn't hesitate to join up or be drafted," said Moore, 20, of Citrus Springs. "I wouldn't be running off to Canada like others did in the Vietnam draft."

    "I don't want to go to war, it worries me to think about it," Winch said. "But if I've got to go, I will fight for my country."

    Before University Mall in Tampa closed, the Radio Shack did a brisk business, selling three televisions, five antennas and five pocket radios to people wanting to monitor news coverage, said sales associate Brandon Leiseca, 22.

    One buyer was Thomas Hopper, 50, manager of a jewelry store in the mall, who spent $90 on a 5-inch black-and-white model. "This is something that affects everybody, especially if your family people and friends are going to have to go to war over these insane people," he explained.

    Standing behind a crowd surrounding the small TVs at Blimpies in downtown St. Petersburg, Mary Iwanick, who works at Insurance Management Solutions inside the 17-story office building next door, couldn't keep from trembling. She had been trying over and over to find out what happened to her brother, a Secret Service agent at the White House, and a cousin in New York.

    "Imagine what one day can do to your whole life," she said before turning to leave the sandwich shop. "I have to take a walk."

    Gary and Ruth Blomgren of Port Richey stopped with a dozen other people to watch the news unfolding at the Verizon Phonemart shop in Countryside Mall in Clearwater before it closed.

    "We feel like we're in the end times," said Mrs. Blomgren, 79. "Our country is in great danger and we are in great danger. I'm worried for all those who are not prepared for it."

    In the nursery at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, all was quiet except for the occasional fussing of one of the 17 newborns. Nurses whispered in shock and fear, dabbed at their eyes with tissue. An orderly said, "God help us all."

    - Times staff writers Curtis Krueger, Lennie Bennett, Leonora LaPeter, Leanora Minai, Anita Kumar, Josh Zimmer, Tamara Lush, Lisa Greene, Christina Headrick, Melia Bowie, Melanie Ave, Lane DeGregory, Bill Coats, Bill Varian and Jeff Klinkenberg contributed to this report.

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