Supervisors Recall 9/11 In Washington
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Two San Diego County supervisors who were in Washington, D.C., when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks took place said they feared for their daughters' safety for several hours, and were then amazed by how the nation's capital completely emptied.
Supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts were on the East Coast to accept an award given to the county for development of San Pasqual Academy, a residential school for foster teens, and for meetings with the area's congressional delegation.
Cox said he came out of a meeting with the now-retired Rep. Duncan Hunter that morning at the Rayburn House Office Building and saw aides gathered around a television and noticed a security guard rushing down a hallway.
"You could tell something was up," Cox told City News Service.
The security guard told him the National Mall was on fire, a car bomb struck the State Department Building and a helicopter flew into the Pentagon, he said.
The supervisor said he had to walk 26 blocks to his hotel through a scene of "pandemonium" while he vainly tried to reach his daughter, Elizabeth, who was then a student at George Washington University.
"I couldn't reach her because the phones were so jammed, but I did get a hold of my wife," Cox said.
She filled him in on what had taken place and told him his daughter was home safe at her apartment, which is where he ended up.
Roberts told City News Service he watched television coverage of the attacks while he dressed but couldn't figure out what was going on because the sound was lowered.
Smoke from the Pentagon, struck by an American Airlines Boeing 757 - not a helicopter - was visible from his hotel room near the Georgetown neighborhood, Roberts said.
He said his daughter and her husband, both hospital emergency room doctors, also were in Washington, D.C., on vacation.
"I was concerned for their safety," Roberts said. "When you picked up a cell phone, you couldn't get a line."
It turned out both of them -- Dr. Andrea Roberts and Dr. Mike Fischbein - went to a hospital to volunteer their services but weren't needed, and they showed up at his hotel later that day, he said.
Roberts said in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the streets were "total gridlock," and later, so quiet it was "eerie."
"You could walk down the middle of the street without worry," Roberts said.
The awards presentation scheduled for that night was canceled, so they spent the next several days trying to get home, their way stymied because flights were grounded. That Friday, Cox rented a van at Reagan National Airport and a group of San Diegans, plus Roberts' daughter and son-in-law, who live in Northern California, piled in and headed south and then west.
Flights were only sporadic by then, and several they tried to book were canceled. They eventually arrived home Saturday via Southwest Airlines from Nashville.
Roberts said he became concerned about terrorism in the years leading up to the attack, and joined with the UCSD School of Medicine to host a conference on bio-terrorism in 2000.
"I think the manner this happened was shocking, but when you study terrorists, they try to do things that are shocking," Roberts said.
He said being so close to the event changed him. One result was that when he was the board chairman during the firestorm of 2007, he was a highly visible player in the government response.
While Cox said he has been invited to speak at halftime of the Chargers game on Sept. 11, Roberts said he plans to spend the anniversary in a more "contemplative" mode, and possibly call some of those with him at the time to reminisce.
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