Archive for Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Woman details her experience in D.C. attack

September 19, 2001

By being able to keep her emotions in check, one brave woman was able to get through her time in Washington D.C. during the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

On Sept. 11, the nation was attacked by an unknown enemy when terrorists hi-jacked planes and crashed them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers in New York.

Basehor resident Karen Sifford, an information technology auditor for the Department of Agriculture, was working in the Whitten building located just 2 miles from the Pentagon and only a half mile from the White House, at the time of the attack.

"When we found out, we thought what is going to be next, Capitol Hill, the White House?" Sifford said. "We were uncertain and we didn't know a lot of what was going on, because we weren't watching the news at the time."

Sifford, who travels to Washington frequently for work, recalled the events of that fateful day in Washington and although getting home was difficult, she said she was glad to be home.

"It was just really tough to get home," Sifford said. "It was pretty intense not knowing what was happening and with all the security you had to go through. I was very, very relieved to be back."

When Sifford finally heard what part of the Pentagon the plane, had hit, it was an especially startling moment.

Sifford said she had worked just 15 months ago in the sub-basement of the wing that was hit by the airplane.

At the Pentagon she had been auditing military defense budgets and had met many of the people that worked in the wing.

"To think that some people I know might have been in there is tough," Sifford said.

When news arrived at her office, that the Pentagon had been attacked, security services at the Whiten building immediately evacuated all personnel out of the building.

"The security guards were afraid they might be trying to take out any complex with a lot of people so they got everyone out," Sifford said.

Outside the building, Sifford saw fire trucks, ambulances, secret service agents and helicopters hovering over the city.

At that point, the employees were told to go home for the day. But going home for the day proved to be difficult, Sifford said.

What was routinely a 30 to 45 minute subway ride to her hotel turned into a two-and-a-half-hour trip filled with tension.

At one point, the subway was so crowded that Sifford almost fell out of the car, but was helped back in by a friendly passenger.

"Everybody was busy but cordial," Sifford said. "For the most part, people were polite and more cooperative. There were a lot of people trying to help one another."

After arriving at her hotel, Sifford stayed glued to the television, trying to catch the latest news on the attack. She also tried to telephone home a number of times, but couldn't because the phone lines had been tied up.

"A lot of times calls wouldn't go through because the phone lines were so busy, but I finally got in touch with some one to let my family know I was OK," she said.

That night, as he addressed the nation, President George W. Bush asked all government employees to return to work so government business could go on.

The next morning security was tight at the Whitten building when Sifford returned to work.

Security guards were checking for bombs in cars and suspicious packages. Traffic was backed up during the security checks so just getting to work was difficult, Sifford said.

Finally, it got to the point where government employees were allowed to go home and a stroke of luck allowed Sifford to catch the first flight home on Thursday.

Security measures getting home were so restrictive at the airport, Sifford was separated from her nephew who had been in New York at the time of the attack, that they had to take different flights home.

Although she faced the dangers of being in Washington during the attack, Sifford, who is scheduled to return to the nation's capital in October, said she is not concerned with flight safety any longer.

"The security is so tight on these planes now I don't have any apprehension about getting on a flight," Sifford said.

Due to the attacks, the government continues to take more stringent security measures for all flights in the U.S.

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