The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C may have occurred hundreds of miles away from the North Country, but the tragedy was deeply felt here, along with the desire to help.
Eleven years later, we all remember the initial shock and fear. That was soon replaced by a call to action as local residents volunteered to travel and assist in the rescue and cleanup efforts, special memorials and ceremonies were held, and area colleges and law enforcement were on guard for a possible lash-out toward international students.
Members of our peaceful communities were suddenly worried the problems of the world would affect the behavior of their neighbors. Fortunately, no incidents were reported.
Here are excerpts from the front page of the Sept. 19, 2001 edition of “North Country This Week” describing what took place in the Greater Canton-Potsdam area in the days following “9-11:”
Schools, colleges, businesses and organizations throughout St. Lawrence County reacted quickly and began to mobilize moments after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that flattened the World Trade Center and severely damaged the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Later in the week, a bomb scare halted a Canton peace rally, Potsdam police remained on heightened alert, and area Red Cross volunteers departed for New York City. Just after the attacks, Potsdam’s Mayor Ruth Garner – scheduled to board an airplane to receive a prestigious award in Washington D.C. – was unexpectedly turned away at the Syracuse airport and returned home.
As the proportions of the tragedy grew, the local response also grew. Troopers from New York State Police Troop B were mobilized to travel downstate; numerous residents called the Red Cross offering donations of blood and money; many churches held special services; communities began to display the American flag; and service groups began collecting items to be used by rescue workers.
Many local residents lit candles in remembrance of those killed in the tragedies. Others attended a vigil in front of the Potsdam Elks Lodge. Initially, local response focused at the four area colleges. Classes at the four colleges were suspended, crisis counseling centers were set up, worship services were held, and special programming was scheduled to help students and others deal with the disaster.
SUNY Potsdam, for example, has 481 students from the New York City area; some were still waiting for word of the fate of family and friends who may have been in or near the World Trade Center. At. St. Lawrence University, officials say relatives and friends of students, and alumni are almost certainly among the lost. SUNY Canton officials counseled worried students to stay here in safety rather than try to return home to New York. And Clarkson called for calm and support for international students on campus.
Potsdam village police remained on heightened alert in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks.
Chief Terry McKendree said officials are concerned over potential incidents involving international students on the Clarkson University and SUNY Potsdam campuses.
“I have talked to Clarkson and SUNY,” McKendree said. “We are concerned about the international students, as the colleges are.”
McKendree said police are “keeping an eye on certain areas of the village” for potential problems. He encouraged local residents to “stay calm and wait for information.”
The chief said officers are “all on notice to be available if they are needed.” At mid-week in neighboring Canton, prior to a bomb scare at SLU, it was business as usual, according to Police Chief Alan Mulkin. Mulkin said there were no special precautions in place, “We're just making sure the patrols are out driving around.”
Mulkin said St. Lawrence University or SUNY Canton had not contacted him at mid-week, but he added, “If they need my assistance I'm sure they will call.”
Red Cross Sends 6 to NYC
Six national disaster trained Red Cross volunteers from St. Lawrence County were deployed to New York City to help in the aftermath of Tuesday's terrorist attacks there.
They are Jone St. John of Richville; Rose Malone, Winthrop; Dennis D'Addario, Massena; Barry Flynn, Massena; Pat Page, Brasher Falls; and Dave Carney of Cranberry Lake, according to Phil Wagner, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Wagner says he was notified Thursday morning that five of the volunteers have been sent directly to lower Manhattan to assist with “mass care.” The sixth, Jone St. John, will be doing mental health work.
Wagner says area residents have called the Red Cross office in Potsdam with offers of blood, donations of money and other assistance.
“As always happens during disasters, many people respond with caring and concern for those affected. We have been getting calls from people who want to volunteer their skills, financially support the relief effort, and those who want to donate blood,” Wagner says.
Political primaries that were cancelled on Sept. 11 throughout the state have been rescheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 25, Gov. George Pataki announced.
Most public school districts cancelled after-school activities and sports Sept. 11. New York Power Authority employees were called back to work. Many area churches planned special services for Sept. 11 and continued to hold services throughout the week. Some Post Offices, including the Potsdam office, announced they were not accepting Express Mail.
Calls For Calm, Support
Potsdam Mayor Ruth F. Garner released a statement last Tuesday night asking for local residents to work together and avoid panic and Clarkson University President Denny Brown Tuesday night called for support for international faculty and students.
Mayor Garner said: “The Village of Potsdam takes pride in its long history of welcoming visitors, students and residents from countries throughout the world. In this time of national crisis, we must not panic or falsely accuse, but rather lend support to one another.”
Brown asked students, faculty and staff to be supportive of each other in the aftermath of the attacks.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected by the events,” Brown said in a message to the campus community. “Let us resolve to keep our focus on supporting our students and colleagues who have been touched by this tragedy.”
Brown also asked that the Clarkson and local communities support and reach out to international students, saying, “Potsdam has always provided as especially welcoming and supportive environment for international faculty and students... With the tragic events of yesterday and the strong emotions we all feel, it is more important than ever that thoughtful people reach out to those who have come to Potsdam from abroad.