Houses of worship holding prayer vigils for the nation were among the few buildings in Chicago actively welcoming people this afternoon, as shock waves from the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington resonated in the heartland.
Chicago, like many other major cities, ground to a halt Tuesday as government offices, businesses, colleges and cultural institutions were closed, events were cancelled and a heightened veil of security blanketed the downtown area.
While most offices, schools and museums are expected to reopen Wednesday, transportation, especially air travel, likely will be a mess for days. And though Chicago was not a target, nervous citizens have begun stockpiling fuel and food, with lines stretching around gasoline stations and grocery stores.
Weve heard from union representative in the stores that there are a lot of people making sure they have the basics, milk and bread, said Elizabeth Belan, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers, with 37,000 members in Illinois and northwest Indiana. Lots of people are going to the stores right now."
For the first time in history, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all civilian flights today, stranding bewildered travelers across the country.
An estimated 4,000 state employees were sent home this morning from the James R. Thompson Center and the State of Illinois Building in downtown Chicago. State workers also were dismissed from the Capitol building and other offices in Springfield.
State workers were told to report to work Wednesday, however.
The 110-story Sears Tower, tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, was evacuated today. Casey Wold, president of TrizecHahn Office Properties, the majority owner of the skyscraper, said his company is prepared to open the building Wednesday but as of early this evening hadnt made a decision.
On a typical business day, the tower houses between 7,000 and 10,000 people and 125 businesses, Wold said. Other closed and evacuated buildings in Chicago included the John Hancock Center, Dirksen Federal Building, Daley Center, Wrigley Building, Merchandise Mart and Aon Tower. Immigration offices also were closed, and postal workers operated under heightened security precautions.
Additionally, the Art Institute of Chicago and Terra Museum of American Art were closed, as was Soldier Field and the entire downtown museum campus -- the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium, said Angelynne Amores, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District.
Away from the Loop, the Lincoln Park Zoo closed its gates.
The Chicago Board of Trade Building shut down, and trading was suspended at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Employees were told to leave. In some buildings, people just went home.
We evacuated ourselves, said Steve Bernas, executive director of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago, which has 25 employees on the 20th floor of the IBM Building.
I could see the panic in my employees eyes. I saw tears welling up. People said if it could happen there (New York and Washington), it could happen here, Bernas said. We addressed the employees, and early on we said if you want to leave, go ahead. As more people came in, we just decided to shut down.
Some companies told employees that staying at work was optional. In the Loop, thousands of people poured into streets as their offices closed. Police assisted high volumes of pedestrian and vehicular traffic through the usually quiet post-rush hour.
I chose to leave. Am I a coward? asked Rick Schaschwary, who works at Sears Tower.
At a news conference, Mayor Richard M. Daley urged residents not to panic, but to stay alert. All city services including the Police Department, Fire Department, Transportation Department, Streets and Sanitation department and the Chicago Transit Authority are on full alert, he said.
Extra CTA service was set up to help people leave the airports and to transport employees sent home early today, and additional Chicago police officers were on duty.
A downtown parking ban is in effect, Daley said. Cars left unattended on the street will be towed, whether legally parked or not.
In addition to the Daley Center, all outlying county courts buildings -- including the Criminal Courts Building at 26th Street and California Avenue -- were closed, according to Bill Cunningham, a spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan.
Cases were suspended by order of the chief judges office, Cunningham said. He said the closings were not in response to any specific threats, and it was unclear whether they would last a day or longer.
Its a day-by-day basis, Cunningham said. Well wait and see what comes out of Washington.The closure of the nations airports by the FAA is considered a Force Majeure Event.
Travelers are entitled to a refund or a seat on an alternate flight. But with all flights cancelled, travel agents spent the day frantically trying to help stranded clients.
OHare International Airport was not evacuated, but people were discouraged from coming, said city Aviation Department spokeswoman Monique Bond.
Those who were there expressed frustration over baggage misplaced in the confusion, and worry about how theyd get to their destinations -- and relief they were safe and sound on the ground.
Im thanking God right now, said Francoise Moriarty, of Iowa City who was headed to Norfolk, Va. It couldve been my plane, your plane, anybodys plane. You could be off to a wedding or a business trip and suddenly youre made into the perfect bomb. Its like the twilight zone.
Were in a state of war in a way, and the airport just looks like Christmas rush, Moriarty said. Everyone is still worried about where their bags were. Its a bit surreal.
Some stranded travelers called friends and family from other parts of the country to pick them up. Lisa Wisniewski, 40, an X-ray technician who was on her way to Washington, D.C., to meet three members of her family, had her husband drive to OHare from Detroit to get her.
Others, like Charleen Kirkman of Santa Barbara, Calif., decided they couldnt wait. Weve got to get on the road. We have to get out of here, said Kirkman, 61, after she rented a Ford Explorer for a long drive back to the West Coast.
The Chicago Public Schools remained open, as did after-school programs sponsored by the Chicago Park District.
I believe the safest place to be today is in school," said schools Executive Officer Arne Duncan.
But many area colleges cancelled classes, including Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul, National Louis University, Chicago-Kent College of Law and the John Marshall Law School. All seven campuses of the City Colleges of Chicago were open this afternoon, but students were not required to stay for classes, and the colleges administrative offices were closed.
In Springfield, officials began evacuating the capitol complex at about 9:30 a.m., dispatched armed guards to the statehouse and started inspecting trucks bringing in shipments. A bomb-sniffing dog also was deployed.
Robert Howlett, director of the secretary of state police, said he knew of no other time in his 28 years of service that such an evacuation had taken place. The decision was made during a meeting with Secretary of State Jesse White, whose duties include overseeing the buildings in the capitol complex.
Howlett estimated about 4,000 state employees were affected.
Separately, 11 nuclear reactors at six electrical generating sites in Illinois, plus a uranium processing plant in Downstate Metropolis and other nuclear facilities around the country were ordered to "heightened security" by the Nuclear Regulator Commission.
Jan Strasma, a spokesman for the NRCs Midwest office, said the region has opened an incident response center at its headquarters in west suburban Lisle and is in telephone contact with nuclear plants throughout the region.
On Michigan Avenue, dozens of tourists, office workers and joggers gathered outside Tribune Tower to watch the news unfold on two TVs visible through the windows of the WGN radio studio. Some people were in tears; others calmly relayed the news to friends via cell phones.
"If they can do this here in America, they can do it anywhere," said Eileen Cole, a 60-year-old tourist from England. "We have bombings quite frequently in London, but nothing like this."
She and her husband, Paul, said they were sightseeing when a stranger approached them in tears.
She said that there had been an attack, the worst since Pearl Harbor, Eileen Cole said. I thought she just exaggerating. Then I saw she wasnt.
Eileen Cole said that as a child during World War II, she had been evacuated to Scotland during the bombing of London. She recalled the destruction, but said todays events seemed worse.
As she spoke, TV announcers reported a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. Several people sighed. One man swore loudly. Another man, wearing a Peter Pan ball cap, squatted on the ground and wept into his cell phone.
Whats scary is whats going to happen next, said Shana Berezin, a 30-year-old downtown office worker. Are we going to go to World War III?
Marilyn Gauger, a mother of four from a 240-acre farm in Knapp, Wis., was visiting Chicago for the first time. I was going to do some shopping, but now Im a little nervous. Im not used to the city with these tall buildings.
Its a real wake-up call, she said. People go through their daily routines, and we never feel vulnerable. And there are other countries that are constantly in this position.
Im not a compassionate person by nature, but when I saw that first tower of the World Trade Center collapse, I felt sick to my stomach, said Marine Corps veteran Chris Reed, 44. I just felt nauseous. You want vengeance but the guess is, who do you target it against?
Tribune staff reporters Jill Blackman, Mark LeBien, Jimmy Greenfield, Charlie Meyerson, Christine Badowski, James Janega, Rick Hepp, Dan Kening, Crystal Yednak and Christine Tatum contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun