Many residents aided relief efforts at home and back East after 9/11

2011-09-07T23:45:00Z Many residents aided relief efforts at home and back East after 9/11

By JEREMY PELZER

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
September 07, 2011 11:45 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, Craig Acres’ goal was to keep birds and animals from picking at body parts strewn in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Stewart Anderson’s job was to help families find loved ones who were in the twin towers when terrorists flew two airplanes into the buildings.

Brandi Schmick, a scheduler for then-U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., spent hours outside the Pentagon serving meals to rescue workers who, just a few hundred feet away, looked for survivors in a gaping, still-smoking hole of the world’s largest office building.

In Cheyenne, United Blood Services staff worked late into the night drawing blood from hundreds of donors eager to do what they could to help.

In the wake of the worst terrorist attacks in American history, many Wyoming residents lent helping hands to survivors and relief workers, both at home and near ground zero in New York City and in Washington, D.C.

Ten years later, those who helped repeatedly say how lucky they were to be able to give of themselves during one of the darkest times in U.S. history.

“So many people wanted to do something,” Schmick said. “And we were physically able to give of our time and our energy, which was an honor and a rare thing, I think.”

Acres, now a district supervisor for the federal Wildlife Services agency in Casper, was working in Gillette as a Wildlife Services biologist when he was asked, along with dozens of other wildlife specialists, to go to Staten Island.

There, at an abandoned landfill morbidly named Fresh Kills, investigators sorted through tons of World Trade Center debris, looking for human remains and personal effects — such as wedding rings — that could provide clues as to the fates of the thousands of people inside the buildings when the attacks occurred.

Acres helped create a fenced perimeter to keep raccoons, skunks and other animals from the debris. He also used pyrotechnics, such as a pistol that shot a loud firework rocket, to deter the ever-present flocks of hungry seabirds.

After a few days of noisy fireworks, Acres said, the birds learned to keep their distance from the site.

“They’d come up close and they’d get maybe a quarter-mile away, and then they’d just fly around the landfill,” he said.

Anderson, now Natrona County’s emergency management coordinator, spent three weeks in New York after the attacks, assisting families of World Trade Center victims and taking them within a couple of blocks of ground zero to see the devastation themselves.

One family he escorted flew in from Belgium to try to find their son, who worked in the twin towers. They spent several hours surveying the debris, lighting a memorial candle for their son, and thanking any rescue workers they saw, though they spoke virtually no English.

“You really didn’t have to have an interpreter to figure out what they were going through,” Anderson said.

A Douglas native working for Cubin in D.C., Schmick and her roommates initially baked cookies for the rescue workers looking for survivors in the Pentagon.

But then they were told that volunteers were needed to serve food to the workers at a tent just yards from where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon.

Schmick said she worked three shifts, handing out meals and drinks to hundreds of people, including one young relief worker in his early 20s.

“I remember just him sitting down with us and having to process what he was having to clean up and how devastating and horrifying it was,” she said.

Many people also helped in the relief effort from Wyoming.

In the hours following the attacks on Sept. 11, blood centers around the state were deluged with people wanting to make donations.

Leslie Salas, United Blood Services’ hospital services manager, said more than 200 units of blood were collected at her Cheyenne office on Sept. 11 — several times the normal rate.

Several more people who couldn’t give blood asked to help in other ways, she said, from making phone calls to taking donors’ vital signs.

When donors kept coming in three days after the attacks, Salas had to tell them to wait a few months to give, so their donation wouldn’t go to waste.

“It was just really unbelievable,” said Salas, who said she had never seen such an outpouring of support during her 25 years with the blood center.

However, the blood center soon faced a key problem, Salas said: It couldn’t use the donated blood until it was tested at a facility in Tempe, Ariz. And with a government-imposed ban on most airplane flights still in effect, they weren’t sure how to get the test samples down to the lab.

That’s when then-Gov. Jim Geringer stepped in, ordering a Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 to fly the samples down.

While Salas said the blood donated in Wyoming likely wasn’t sent to New York, it likely was distributed to a number of other cities where blood was running low because of the flight ban.

In the years following the attacks, Salas said blood donations have spiked in Wyoming on or around Sept. 11. United Blood Services now holds annual blood drives in Cheyenne and Casper on the anniversary of the attacks.

Those who helped in the aftermath of the attacks said the memories of that day will always stick in their minds.

As an emergency management coordinator, Anderson said he’s taken a lesson from seeing how overwhelmed New York’s considerable force of police and firefighters was by the attacks.

“We just can’t afford to be complacent, whether it would be against terrorism or any other type of natural or man-made hazard,” he said. “Part of our jobs is to keep that memory alive and be better prepared because of that memory.”

Acres said that even now, he still feels remorse for the tragedies and suffering that happened that day — and still wants revenge on the people who carried out the attacks.

“Being involved in something like that is significant enough that you just don’t forget about that,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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