Troops patrolling streets of Washington as federal government reopens after attack
Wednesday, September 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) _ With National Guard troops patrolling the streets and the Pentagon still smoldering, the government reopened Wednesday as federal workers returned to their jobs and Congress reconvened. But it was not exactly business as usual.
Camouflaged Humvees carrying military police were posted on street corners at many downtown intersections. Security officers inspected trunks of employees' cars entering government parking garages. Supreme Court officers huddled in groups, checking packages more closely than usual. Other federal courts were open.
President Bush ordered the government to reopen, and federal workers were given the option of heading back into work. Some also were told they were free to leave at any time to donate blood.
``The federal government and all our agencies are conducting business, but it is not business as usual,'' Bush said. ``We are operating on heightened security alert. America is going forward, and as we do so, we must remain keenly aware of the threats to our country.''
A dozen FBI agents searched a grassy area near where an airliner crashed Tuesday morning into the Pentagon, bending down and looking under tree branches for evidence.
A little more than half of the Pentagon's work space was closed off Wednesday as firefighters fought stubborn blazes in the roof and in the area where the jetliner smashed into the building on Tuesday.
In areas of the Pentagon where offices reopened, life was hardly normal. The smell of smoke was ever-present, and in some corridors the white linoleum floors were covered with a thin layer of black soot.
Armed MPs stood guard in some darkened corridors to prevent people from wandering toward the most heavily damaged areas. Some wore paper masks over their mouths to protect against the soot in the air.
With the struggle toward normality, life was a bit less unusual elsewhere.
``Most people are here,'' said Chris Paulitz, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, which has about 7,400 employees spread among three buildings downtown and one across the Potomac River. ``We're up and running and not being deterred in any way.''
Employees at the Agriculture Department's main building along the National Mall were evacuated about 9 a.m. but were allowed back in an hour later. Reports of unidentified aircraft in Canadian airspace prompted the evacuation, Chris Gomez, deputy director of the department's office of operations, told employees.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Canadian Air Force was tracking three unidentified aircraft over Canada but that the United States was not greatly concerned.
At the Interior Department, also near the Mall, employees were told to seek safety in the basement due to the reports. By 9:15 a.m., the perceived danger had ended and employees returned to their offices, department spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna said.
Federal monuments on the Mall were closed while officers scoured them for any possible threats, but were expected to reopen by midday.
There was tight security at the Energy Department's headquarters, but spokesman Joe Davis said the department was resuming regular work. Some workers remained home under the governmentwide liberal leave policy, he said.
Senior DOE officials were looking closely at ways to counter reports of gasoline hoarding and price spikes around the country. The department was expected to address the issue later in the day.
Both the Senate and House reconvened to take up a resolution condemning the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center by terrorists who hijacked airliners and crashed them into the buildings.
Traffic backed up from the Capitol at least 10 blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue and in other directions. Capitol police were checking every car, asking for IDs, searching trunks, looking in backseats. Some barricades also were up.
Schools and some museums remained closed. Area universities opened. The subway was running but not stopping at the National Airport station. Below ground, commuters were met with red-lettered ``Security Alert'' signs.
Shirley Derricotte, who helps run a snack shop in the Treasury Department, located next to the White House, said she felt jittery about coming to work Wednesday in the wake of the attacks.
``I was very nervous that something else could happen,'' she said. But that didn't stop her from opening the snack shop right on time at 7:15 a.m. ``They are not letting the construction workers in today because they don't have permanent badges. So it's been very slow.''