Kentuckians mostly witnessed the 9-11 terror attacks on television, but, follow-up attacks seemed probable, maybe even in Kentucky. So, like the rest of the nation, airspace over the Commonwealth was shut down. Runways in Louisville, Northern Kentucky and Lexington stood still and remained still for days. On 9-11, Bluegrass Airport spokesman Tom Tyra saw few stranded passengers. Not knowing what to expect, the airport and its airlines were working to quickly resume operations.
“The airspace is closed until further notice. So, many airlines are telling me that they’re going ahead and trying to book for even tomorrow and not worry about booking later on tonight, if the airspace should open back up,” said Tyra.
Even the UPS distribution hub in Louisville halted flights. Packages were shifted from aircraft and onto trucks.
Governors from across the south, who were in Lexington for an annual conference, cancelled the meeting and left for secure locations. Some went home with police escorts. Hosting the meeting was Kentucky Governor Paul Patton.
“We’re getting ourselves to try to take care of the governors that are here in the state and try to make sure government facilities are as secure as possible,” said Patton on 9-11.
The state capitol in Frankfort was also secured and meetings cancelled. Also locked down were federal buildings. For example, in Pikeville, parking was prohibited around the federal building and no one entered without a photo ID.
The Commonwealth has numerous government and military targets which could attract a terrorist. Fort Campbell increased security. Officials at Fort Knox did not comment on their response, but the Bluegrass Army Depot in Madison County went on high alert. Then, as now, many of the nation’s chemical and conventional weapons are stored there. Dave Easter spoke for the Depot on 9-11.
“We are going to have heightened security on the entrances to the installation. All vehicles will be searched. There are some barricades leading onto the installation that requires a vehicle to slow down. And, we’re asking people if they don’t have official business at the depot, to please not come here,” said Easter.
Almost immediately, Kentucky’s political leaders promised a response. Congressman Ernie Fletcher talked about the fighter aircraft he heard scramble from a military base near Washington DC. On the day of the attack, Jim Bunning was still Kentucky’s senator. He talked about weapons of mass destruction.
“I hope it has a positive effect. Because, I mean, we are totally and completely defenseless if a rogue nation decides they have a missile that could reach New York, or reach Los Angeles,” said Bunning.
Then, there were the Kentuckians who tried to help. Some hopped in pickup trucks and drove to New York City and Washington D-C. Hundreds lined up outside blood banks. Search dogs from south central Kentucky went to work at Ground Zero. Marsha Berry spoke for the Central Kentucky Blood Center in Lexington.
“We just received a communication that was put out by New York Blood Center that says they are assessing the needs with their area hospitals and they’ll get back to us this afternoon. And they’re also trying to coordinate a simplified transportation system to get blood into the area since air transportation is down,” said Berry on 9-11.
There was also panic. There were rumors of an Al Qaeda cell operating out of southeast Kentucky. Parents snatched their children out of school and gasoline prices in some places jumped to four-dollars a gallon. There were reports of some lines extending up to a half-mile.
It was a few more days before the price paid by Kentuckians on 9-11 was fully known. On 9-11, most were working to discover the fates of loved ones. Morehead resident Buford Crager, who’s son Kyle was a computer consultant at the World Trade Center, tried to be patient.
“When the buildings collapsed, of course, we wanted to think the best and continue to think the best and be positive as best we could. And, then at one clock today, 1 pm today, I called my daughter-in-law, Kim, again, Kyle’s wife in New Jersey, and she just had received e-mail from her husband, who has a laptop, of course that they carry with them. He hadn’t been able to call her, but he was able to email her and said that he was safe,” said Crager.
Then word came on casualties with connections to Kentucky. Among the first reported was the brother-in-law of University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, who died at the World Trade Center. There was also Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Earhart of Morehead. Trained in meteorology, the sailor died at his post in the Pentagon. For several days, newscasts told the stories of other Kentuckians who suffered loss on 9-11; deaths that made attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon into an attack on Kentucky and the rest of the United States.