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Federal Government Shuts Down Offices

By Steve Twomey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2001; 2:18 PM

_____Related Content_____
• Special Report: U.S. Under Attack
• Overview: Q & A
• Timeline of Today's Attacks
• Previous Attacks on U.S. Targets
• Photo Gallery: New York Attacks
• MSNBC Video: Towers Collapse
• MSNBC Video: Trade Center Crash
• MSNBC Video: President Bush
• Text: Bush Comments on Attacks
• MSNBC Video: Colin Powell
• MSNBC Video: Giuliani and Pataki
• Video: Eyewitness at Pentagon
• Audio: Expert on Anti-Terrorism
• Audio: Colbert I. King
• Webcam: Pentagon Fire
• Attack on the Pentagon
• Attack on the World Trace Center
• Area Map of World Trade Center
• Location of Pennsylvania Crash
_____Closings, Evacuations_____
• Nationwide Closures
• D.C.-Area Closures
_____Related Articles_____
• N.Y., D.C. Rocked by Attacks
• Bush Reacts, Moves to Nebraska
• Pentagon Evacuated After Attack
• Nightmare Shatters NY Morning
• Nation's Capital Shaken
• U.S. Tries to Identify Perpetrators
• Aircraft Carriers Head to Cities
• Federal Gov't Closes Offices
• FAA Closes Airports
• World Reacts With Revulsion
• Attacks Snarl Local Traffic
• D.C. Schools Feel Force of Attacks
• Blood Donors Requested
• Region's Phone System Strained
• Internet Slows After Attacks
• Stock Markets Closed
• Baseball Cancels Games
• Marc Fisher: Coddled No More
• Howard Kurtz: Disaster Unfolds on TV News
_____Pentagon Request_____
The Pentagon has asked that all Navy and Marine personnel who were in the building at the time of the attack to call in to a toll-free number so that the services can put together a roster.
That number is 1-877-663-6772.

Downtown Washington this morning: A man stood on a corner, crying, saying, “I don’t know what’s happening.” A woman sat in a convertible, listening to the radio, and suddenly put her hands to her head. “Oh, my God,” she said. Siren pursued siren through paralyzed traffic, offices disgorged thousands onto sidewalks and, above it all, the pale gray smoke of a burning Pentagon drifted across the most blue of skies.

As the realization that New York was not the epicenter of terrorism saturated the capital region today, the federal government elected to shut down, additional security enveloped leaders of Congress, many schools in Maryland sent children home, cell phone networks overloaded and rumors ricocheted, many of them false.

There was no large-scale panic. But at the Capitol, some tourists simply left jackets and sweaters behind, on the floor, when security officers told them to leave.

“It started calm,” said Don Keiser, a Georgia resident who had just taken the Capitol tour, “but then people started running.”

In the 1800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, Secret Service agents with machine guns, and some in paramilitary dress with tear-gas masks strapped to their belts, scurried throughout the area, shutting down H Street. At the Sun Trust Bank at Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, a hand-lettered sign appeared in the window: “Bank closed due to circumstances.”

At 10:25 a.m., alarms began clanging in the building housing the Office of Personnel Management. “Gather your belongings and please leave,” announced a male voice. At the State Department, workers began implementing special procedures. “We put up all of the classified documents,” said an employee who asked not to be identified. All window blinds had been closed, she added.

Traffic downtown slowed or stopped as federal and private-sector workers tried to go home from offices that had been closed. Because the Metro system seemed a likely terrorist target too, many workers began walking home, with those trying to take the 14th Street Bridge finding it closed to pedestrians. At the Tidal Basin, hundreds of people simply watched the smoke rising form the Pentagon, across the Potomac River.

OPM’s decision to tell 250,000 federal workers that their offices were closed and they were free to leave was made in consultation with the White House, officials said. No decision has been made about when the offices would reopen. District government offices also closed.

“It’s traumatizing,” said Meyer Persow, who has worked at OPM for 15 years. “I never thought that something like this would happen to us here.”

Jeannette Smith, who works at Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., waited outside an H Street parking garage for her car. Smith shook her head in disbelief at the events, as police barked orders at pedestrians, clearing the sidewalk across the street.

“We got word we could leave at our own discretion,” Smith said. “Some of the diehards are still in the building.”

“I can’t believe this is happening here, or in New York,” said Diane Rodgers, who also works at the FDIC, at H and 17th streets. Rodgers stood outside, scrambling to find a way to her home near Falls Church.

A mobile Secret Service Command Center raced west on H Street, with sirens blaring,shortly after 11 a.m. as police drew a growing perimeter around the White House. Metal gates and yellow tape blocked access to streets and alleys. People scrambled to find working pay phones or reach friends or family on cell phones.

Outside the H Street law firm Baker & McKenzie, which has a large office in New York not far from the World Trade Center, workers were hugging and consoling each other in late morning.

“This is a time for those of us who trust in God to rely on his promises,” said Debbie Sanford of Clinton.

Throughout the region, a steady stream of parents came to pick up their children for the day as school officials weighed whether to close schools. Northern Virginia school districts opted to remain open, while most Maryland schools closed an hour or two early. Most districts canceled after-school and evening activities.

“It’s pretty chaotic,” said Anne Arundel schools spokeswoman Jane Beckett. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls, and a lot of parents are picking their kids up.”

Johnny Cervantes, a worker for the Internal Revenue Service, said that after the New York explosions, his branch chief suggested employees leave. “Word just sort of spread. I think, like everyone else, I’m shocked. I’m walking home to Crystal City because I don’t want to take the subway. Sure, I’m going to be concerned about coming back to work. We’ll come back to work when we get a better idea what kind of security plans are in place.”

© 2001 The Washington Post Company