Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

America's bloodiest day
Terrible images hold Island residents spellbound

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Once Bonnie Hilton found out her nephew had made it out of the World Trade Center alive, she did the only thing she could think of that might help.

She went to the Blood Bank of Hawai'i, whose statewide donation centers had collected 270 pints by late afternoon for victims of yesterday's attack. At the Dillingham Boulevard blood bank, donors spilled out of the waiting room, their cars overflowing the parking lot.

Inside, dozens of people gathered around a TV screen, mirroring a scene played out in hundreds of thousands of offices across the country.

"There's so little you can do from this distance," Hilton said during her two-hour wait. "I had to do something."

The Makiki resident was among relatives who waited for news about Kevin Auerr, a 25-year-old international banker who made it out of the lobby of the twin tower into which the first hijacked plane crashed.

Hilton's relief will make Auerr's wedding in two months an even sweeter family celebration. As she tried to wrap her mind around the tragedy, she couldn't help but think of ways to bring about harmony.

"I feel so sorry for all of the people involved," said the executive director of the Hawai'i Youth Symphony. "I think this is one of those benchmarks in history where our psyche will never be the same again."

At a downtown bus stop, David VanWormer, who works for an accounting firm, felt the aftershocks of the attack on the United States that closed airports and caused security alerts nationwide.

"There's nothing downtown," he said. "It's like everything is evacuated. The flags are all at half staff, which is good. I live in Kunia but I'm from New York, so I was very worried. But we got a call, and everyone there is OK."

Not far away, Terry Luke, who works for a downtown law firm, commented on the TV coverage from New York City that was keeping viewers spellbound.

"It's like a horror movie," Luke said. "It's just the most awful thing. They show the footage over and over again from every angle. It's very difficult to watch."

The disaster put business on hold in many places as stunned workers listened to reports of the terror.

"I think people are continuing to do their work, but everyone who has a radio has it turned on to the news," said Linda Howe, spokeswoman at the Bishop Street headquarters of Alexander & Baldwin Inc., where employees were told they could go home if necessary. "We're a long way from New York, but somehow this has managed to impact everybody personally."

United Airlines managing director Thomas Renville awoke around 3:15 a.m. to a phone call from an early-rising employee.

"She said I should turn on the TV and that there were some bad things happening," he said.

Renville roused the rest of his staff, and later sent about 15 bilingual employees to the airport to help Korean, Chinese and Japanese speakers who were about to find themselves in Hawai'i unexpectedly.

At the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, class discussions turned from the images on the morning news to the topic of war and peace.

"It's almost a bewilderment to react to it," said Ira Rohter, an associate professor of political science. "People in the United States are not used to seeing a war on their own soil."

Across the Ko'olau range in Kailua, musician Victoria Artis was thinking of unity. Artis and her husband, musician-muralist Ron Artis, are rounding up artist friends for an around-the-clock concert at Kailua's Boston North End Pizza eatery.

All musicians and other artists are invited to take part in what they're calling "Unite America."

"We're trying to keep a sense of peace among ourselves and others," Artis said. "Artists have been able to keep the peace and keep people together. Through our art and our music, we're doing what we can to help to heal."

Others concentrated more on retaliation.

As Airport Express shuttle dispatcher Ed Kobayashi watched business drop with the closing of the airport, he had a dismal prediction.

"This is what is going to create an economic crisis," he said. "And, I think, what's going to pull us out of it is a war."

Kobayashi, 48, said he felt the same call to patriotism that he did during the Persian Gulf War, and it frustrated him that he's too old to join the military.

Mary Phillips, owner of the Flags Flying store in Ward Warehouse, felt the same public spirit when people began making emotional phone calls to ask whether she had American flags in stock.

"Yes, there is a surge of patriotism," Phillips said. "People are very moved by what's happened."

Melanie Afualo thought about buying a flag herself.

Afualo, 23, who works for Hawaiian Airlines, left the maintenance area at Honolulu International Airport after talking with colleagues who gathered around radios and televisions when work shut down.

"All the planes are in their gates, but nothing is moving," Afualo said. "It's so quiet."

She felt compelled to go to the blood bank and join the dozens of people waiting and watching CNN.

"Things like that you just see in movies," Afualo said. "You never think something like this is going to happen, especially in America."

Staff writers Will Hoover, Vicki Viotti, Michele Kayal, Susan Hooper and Kevin Dayton contributed to this report.

Reach Tanya Bricking at 525-8026 or tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com