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Threat leads to heightened security at Hampton Roads tunnels on 9/11, officials investigating

On the day the nation paused to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hampton Roads residents found themselves under heightened security measures after threats were called into local police, leaving drivers traveling along the region’s tunnels in stop-and-go traffic throughout the day.

A male caller phoned in a bomb threat around 7:50 a.m. Wednesday to a local law enforcement agency, which then transferred the call to Virginia State Police, said state police spokeswoman Corrinne Geller. The threat was for the Hampton Roads region and included a time frame that expired around noon, she said. As of 4 p.m. no incidents had been reported anywhere in the Hampton Roads region, according to state police.

Officials continued an investigation into the matter Thursday, with state police following several leads, Geller said. No arrests have been made so far.

Virginia Beach resident Phil Holley tried to schedule his monthly appointment at the Hampton VA Medical Center after the morning rush hour Wednesday. Instead, a trip that normally takes him 30 minutes took him about two and a half hours, he said.

“You try to plan ahead, and then this happens,” Holley said.
Holley said he arrived at 12:30 p.m. — an hour and a half after his appointment — but was still able to get a check-up. After leaving at a quarter after 3, he stopped by a McDonald’s at Phoebus for a quick bite and geared up for even more traffic on the way home.

“It’s probably backing up again,” he said.

As a precautionary measure, state police always operate at a heightened state of security on the 9/11 anniversary, Geller said. However, immediately after the threat, police stepped up patrols in the area and began stopping all commercial vehicles for inspection along interstates 64 and 664.

From around 8:30 a.m., all commercial vehicles were being stopped at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, which caused miles-long delays throughout the day. As of 3:15 p.m., all lanes had reopened and traffic was flowing smoothly.

State police worked with federal and local law enforcement to evaluate the earlier threat, and to supplement patrol and inspection resources. They will continue to investigate the incident, the news release said.
Geller said it is unusual that credible threats are phoned in, but in the post-9/11 world, the agency takes every threat seriously.

“We never disregard a threat that comes in,” she said. “The Hampton Roads region has a lot of infrastructure and assets that could pose a threat not only to the commonwealth, but the nation as a whole. We're on heightened alert at all times.”

She said in the months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, state police would often conduct random commercial vehicle checks at the tunnels.

Police are encouraging the public to report any suspicious activity to the police and to go to Homeland Security’s website at  www.dhs.gov/if-you-see-something-say-something for more information.

During a 3:30 p.m. pit stop at the same McDonald’s Holley visited, Virginia Beach resident Nancy Dickerson, 70, said it took her three hours to get from her home to Hampton on her way to visit a friend in Charlottesville.

The crawling traffic gave Dickerson plenty of time to play Words with Friends and check email, she said, adding she finds it easier to drive in New York City where her daughter lives than to get around in Hampton Roads.

“I have a lot of friends who will not come to the beach, because we can’t plan lunch, and vice versa.”

In the 15 years the Hampton native has lived in Virginia Beach, she said traffic has gotten much worse during the last five.

“It’s enough to make me move,” she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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