By Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2001
Way cleared for lifesaving shipment by air
MIAMI -- A snake handler near death after a bite by one of the world's most poisonous snakes was on the mend Thursday after military controllers opened restricted air space for a San Diego-to-Miami air ambulance antivenin delivery.
Lawrence Van Sertima, 62, was still in critical condition at Miami's Baptist Hospital, but doing much better after getting the antivenin for the bite by a rare and deadly Taipan snake.
The snake handler almost certainly would have died without the extra antivenin, said Capt. Al Cruz, a paramedic with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom 1, a special rescue squad.
The nearly fatal bite also took place just hours after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, which prompted authorities to order all but military planes out of the nation's skies.
SEATTLE -- After waiting for more than a year for a heart transplant, a 21-year-old disabled Tacoma, Wash., man came close to missing the surgery Wednesday when a Navy F-16 fighter intercepted the charter jet carrying his new heart.
Brian Cortez, deaf and developmentally disabled, received the life-saving heart transplant at the University of Washington Medical Center after the heart was flown by private jet and helicopter in a harrowing, two-stage journey.
The heart came from a young Anchorage, Alaska, accident victim. While en route to Seattle early Wednesday, a Navy F-16 fighter directed the chartered plane to land in Bellingham because the fighter pilot had not received word the aircraft had emergency clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration. Almost all air traffic was shut down across the nation because of the terrorist attacks.
Once the FAA clearance was clarified, the rush was on to deliver the heart in time. A heart can last only about eight hours out of the body, and it had been out about six hours when it reached the surgical team.
Cortez is expected to recover in the hospital for seven to 10 days.
After two days of unprecedented response, blood suppliers are turning people away. Officials at Tampa Bay area blood centers say that they have enough blood for now. They urge donors to return later to donate blood which, until recently, had been in alarmingly low supply.
The Washington, D.C., office of the American Civil Liberties Union, a usually accessible group that is a veritable quote-machine, was silent Thursday.
When reporters called for comments on the impact the terrorist crisis might have on American civil liberties, the ACLU referred reporters to a statement on its Web site condemning the terrorist attack. Otherwise, the group told the media that it would have no comment.
The National Football League, which has never canceled games due to a national emergency, on Thursday suspended the second week of the season.
At least two Navy men with Jacksonville ties are among those still missing after Tuesday's terrorist attack on the Pentagon, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville reported.
Cmdr. Robert Edward Dolan, 43, and Information Systems Technician First Class Johnnie Doctor Jr., 32, were among 190 military people and civilians listed as unaccounted for. Dolan led the USS John Hancock, a destroyer at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, before it was decommissioned last fall. He lives in New Jersey but planned to return to the Jacksonville area after retiring. Mayport also was a duty station for Doctor, who began his Navy career in 1986. He is said to have lived in Jacksonville in the mid to late 1990s.
By Monday, St. Petersburg funeral director John McQueen's bags will be packed so that he can travel north to help preparing thousands of terrorist victims for burial.
"You try to help out where you can and hope they would do the same for you," McQueen of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes said Thursday as he awaited word of where and when he is needed.
McQueen, a member of the Florida Funeral Director's Association, is specially trained to handle high-casualty disasters by FEMA and the FBI. He will join about 100 other emergency team members from the Southeast and more than 1,000 nationwide in the coming weeks. They will travel to New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
These specialists -- who range from anthropologists, fingerprint experts and dental assistants to coroners and mental health workers -- constitute a 10-region network of Disaster Mortuary Response Teams across the nation. They are called in to work in portable morgues handling the aftermath of airline crashes, natural disasters, bombings and now wide-scale terrorism.
NEW ORLEANS -- A television station's on-the-street fund drive for victims of the terrorist attacks picked up $300,000 in cash in less than 24 hours -- and the money was still pouring in.
The crush of donors outside WDSU-TV studios, near an interstate off-ramp, led to a rush-hour traffic jam Wednesday.
"But that's okay because everyone was dropping off money," news director Margaret Cordes said. "This is not pledges. This was in cold hard cash."
Corporations and nearby businesses took up collections, children came with coin-filled piggy banks and more than $1,000 was sent from the nearby Guste public housing development, one of the city's poorer neighborhoods.
WASHINGTON -- The information came in pieces.
White House aides, including Karl Rove, came back from the front of the Air Force One to explain to Reps. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, and Dan Miller, R-Bradenton, that the plane was threatened by terrorist attacks. TV stations in Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola showed pictures of the smoldering World Trade Center. Six fighter jets and an AWACS surveillance plane appeared out the window near Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle.
"It was out of a Tom Clancy novel," Miller said.
On an extraordinary day of terror, two Florida congressmen found themselves in the middle of efforts by the military and the Secret Service to ensure the president's safety. They had joined President Bush for the morning event at a Sarasota elementary school.
As Bush read to schoolchildren, Putnam and Miller watched the second jetliner slam into the World Trade Center on a television in the nearby media center.
They were herded to the presidential motorcade, where they listened to staffers discuss where and when to move the president. Air Force One took off five minutes before 10 a.m. headed for, as Putnam and Miller understood, Washington. Around 10:15 the plane made a sharp turn to the west and headed to a Louisiana military base.
DON'T SUE: For the first time in its 55-year history, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, a national support group for plaintiffs' lawyers, has asked its members to hold off on filing lawsuits -- in this case arising from Tuesday's terrorist attacks.
"We're urging our members to respect a moratorium on filing lawsuits until more facts are known," said Leo Boyle, a Boston lawyer who serves as president of the organization in Washington.
"Now's the time to let the government with its multiple resources unleash a manhunt for the terrorists. When we're further along we can revisit it," Boyle said Boyle.
DON'T JUDGE: Virginia lawyer David P. Baugh just sighs when he hears Americans speak of retaliation against the terrorists who struck New York and Washington.
"We are so arrogant," he said. "We think we are so nice that anyone who would want to attack us is crazy. And we don't spend one minute trying to figure out why it is that people hate us."
Baugh came to know a lot about terrorists and their motivations in the past year, when he represented one of the four men accused of participating in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Baugh's client, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, admitted to riding in the truck that blew up the Kenyan embassy on Aug. 7, 1998. The explosion killed 213 people and wounded thousands of others.
'Owhali was convicted, but jurors could not reach a decision on the death penalty. The 24-year-old Saudi Arabian will spend the rest of his life in prison.
During the trial, Baugh said, he read books on Islamic philosophy and religion to gain insight into his client's psyche. He said 'Owhali and his comrades regarded Americans as oppressors for their continued sanctions against Iraq, a view Baugh didn't find completely out of line.
"Everything we feel right now, all the pain and all the anger, the other side feels it too. We never run out of innocent blood to spill."
Family members of victims in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon can receive free grief counseling from Thomas Buonomo, a licensed mental health counselor in Palm Harbor.
"We'd like to donate our services, focused on grief counseling for local family members of victims of the terrorism," Buonomo said Thursday. That could include putting together a group to receive counseling. "I just feel a strong urge to do some community service."
Buonomo, 36, who grew up in New York and went to college in Manhattan, said he has had many current and previous clients come in to discuss their feelings about the attacks.
Relatives of victims can reach Buonomo at (727) 538-4150.
TAMPA -- They were in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, two fun-filled days into a five-day cruise.
It was Tuesday morning and passengers on the Carnival cruise ship, Jubilee, were preparing to disembark on the island of Cozumel for a day of shopping.
Then TV images beamed into the ship's cabins showed disturbing scenes from New York City.
Suddenly, no one felt like shopping. No one felt like celebrating.
Many of the passengers remained in their cabins the rest of that day. Like everyone else, they were unable to peel themselves away from the scenes of death and destruction.
Thursday morning, they returned to U.S. soil at the Port of Tampa, most wearing red, white and blue ribbons saying "God Bless America" on their shirts.
Willie Powell of Birmingham, Ala., said the cruise was never the same after the attacks.
"The mood just turned solemn," Powell recalled. "It never went back to the party mode."
CNN's Web site (cnn.com), like most news sites, saw an unprecedented wave of traffic following news of the terrorist strikes in New York and Washington on Tuesday.
Shortly after the news broke Tuesday, CNN's Web servers reached full capacity. By midday, the site's Atlanta headquarters had added backup servers to triple its capacity.
Previously, all of CNN's top 10 busiest days had come during last year's presidential election and ensuing controversy.
On Tuesday, 162.4-million page views were registered, which reset the record from Nov. 8, 2000, the day after the presidential election. Then on Wednesday, a new record was set, with nearly twice as much traffic.
State consumer protection experts are warning residents to watch out for con artists taking advantage of this week's attacks to make a buck.
Floridians began receiving e-mails Thursday seeking donations for bogus charities or from people impersonating legitimate charities.
"While I encourage people to open their hearts during this tragedy, they must take steps to ensure their donations go to real victims," said Charles H. Bronson, Agriculture and Consumer Services commissioner.
Bronson is encouraging would-be donors to contribute to a charity through a local chapter or at a specific location. And call the state's toll-free hotline, 1-800-435-7352, to receive a free copy of the state's Gift Givers Guide, which lists all charities that are allowed to solicit money from Floridians.
Tuesday's attack in New York and Washington is having effects on security everywhere, including the nuclear power plant in Crystal River.
William Habermeyer, president of Florida Power Corp., told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Thursday that the electric company had increased security.
"Certainly, we're reassessing all security," he said. "I think it was more of a concern in the subsequent 48 hours."
Habermeyer declined to say what specific steps the company, now owned by parent Carolina Power & Light Co., had taken at the plant.
TAMPA -- For nearly 30 years, Arthur and Martha Alfonso have lived with the roar of jets landing and taking off from Tampa International Airport. The flight path goes right over their home in the Town 'N Country area north of the airport.
Suddenly they miss that sound.
"All of a sudden we noticed: It's quiet," Martha Alfonso said Thursday. "I guess it gives you a break on the ears. But you know what? I'd rather have the noise."
As Mrs. Alfonso spoke, her husband stood on his aluminum ladder and affixed a large American flag to a pole over their garage. Above him, the sky was empty except for a blanket of angry gray clouds.
Across the nation, in the Tampa Bay area and even in the White House, people are wanting to do something to demonstrate strength, solidarity and patriotism.
President Bush has declared today a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of the terrorist attacks.
A huge e-mail campaign is urging people to wear red, white and blue clothing today. Another campaign is urging Americans to step outside at 7 p.m. and light a candle.
- Times staff writers Greg Auman, John Balz, Melia Bowie, Richard Danielson, Stephen Hegarty, Carrie Johnson, Anita Kumar, Leonora LaPeter, William R. Levesque, Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Chase Squires and Bill Varian contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.