WASHINGTON (AP) _ Aircraft carriers and guided missile destroyers moved into the waters near New York and Washington after President Bush placed the U.S. military on its highest alert status in response to deadly terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
``We have been attacked like we haven't since Pearl Harbor,'' said Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va.
The ships Natter sent to stand off the East Coast included the carrier USS George Washington, which was in position off the coast of New York City Wednesday morning. Another carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, was headed to New York, an Atlantic Fleet spokesman said. Each has a crew of 2,500 to 3,000 sailors, and the JFK's airwing has about 1,500 sailors.
The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship in Baltimore harbor, also was made available.
Also deployed were amphibious ships, guided missile cruisers and guided missile destroyers that are capable of responding to threats from the air and sea. The amphibious ships were carrying Marines and sailors to provide security, surgical teams and limited hospital bed capacity.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet had a number of ships under way in the Pacific Ocean, a Navy official at Pearl Harbor said.
The USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier was steaming off San Diego and two guided missile cruisers, three guided missile destroyers and five guided missile frigates were at sea in the eastern Pacific, he said.
The USS Russell guided missile destroyer, the Navy rescue ship USS Salvor and the Navy oiler USNS Yukon were off Hawaii.
Bush was in Florida at the time of the attacks Tuesday morning and was flown to Air Force bases in Louisiana and Nebraska before returning to Washington for an Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday evening.
Congressional leaders were taken to the safety of an undisclosed location outside Washington, and military aircraft were seen patrolling the skies above the capital.
Natter placed naval installations under his command on the highest security condition. He is in charge of 188 ships, 1,223 aircraft, 37 shore stations and more than 125,000 sailors and Marines and civilian employees. The Atlantic Fleet provides combat-ready forces to support American and NATO commanders around the world.
Elsewhere in the country, fighters, airborne radar and refueling planes were scrambled, according to an Air National Guard spokesman at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command also was on its highest alert status.
``We have all of our air sovereignty aircraft _ fighters, surveillance and other support aircraft _ ready to respond,'' NORAD said in a statement.
The U.S. portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway also was closed, said Lynn Duerod, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.