If You Want To Humble An Empire

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LYLE OWERKO / POLARIS

(14 of 20)

At St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village they were running out of Silvadene to treat burn victims, and began raiding the local drug stores. A hospital staff member wheeled around a grocery cart with a sign on the side reading, WE NEED CLOTHING DONATIONS. Within the hour, local residents had brought dozens of shopping bags full of blazers, shoes and pants, for patients whose clothes had been burned off. Edward Cardinal Egan led a team of priests to begin giving last rites. At one point he emerged from the emergency room, wearing blue hospital scrubs. His purple robes peeked out at the collar, and over one of his blue rubber gloves he had placed his enormous gold cardinal's ring. He said, quite formally, "I am amazed at the goodness of our police and our fire fighters and our hospital people."

When English teacher Karen Kriegel heard the news, she couldn't just stay in her downtown office; she had to do something. So she printed up some handmade signs that said GIVE BLOOD NOW, photocopied them at a copy shop and headed for St. Vincent's. As she started walking and handing out flyers, 100 people started walking with her. When they reached the hospital, the gurneys were everywhere, and rolling desk chairs covered with white sheets had been brought out to the pavement to handle bodies. The chairs already looked like ghosts.

Outside the N.Y. Blood Center, the line of prospective donors stretched halfway down the block, around the corner, all the way to 66th Street and around that corner — more than a thousand, all told. Type O donors, the universal donors, were handed little yellow movie tickets and asked to form a separate line. Eventually some blood centers turned everyone else away, told them to come back another day. "It's just amazing," said nurse Anne Taylor, standing in the donors' line. "There'll be a three- or four-hour wait, and just look at all of these people standing here. They can't scare us." Bellevue hospital had so many donors, it ran out of plastic bags.

The warlike mobilization was by no means left to the stricken zones. At Chalkville Elementary School near Birmingham, Ala., more than 700 calls had been received from worried parents, many of whom came at midmorning to pick up their children. Churches and schools and civic groups all around the country offered to help anyone stranded by the grounding of the nation's planes. All over Los Angeles, offices and government buildings were shut down and surrounded by police: city hall, the Federal Building in Westwood, even shopping malls. At the Federal Building, armored rescue vehicles and Ford cars ringed the entrances and exits, with FBI staffers decked out in black and brandishing MP5 assault rifles. Even Express Mail trucks were searched by the FBI before they were allowed onto the premises. Gas pipeline companies were beefing up security at key transmission stations. Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington State was locked down. Gasoline stations around the country were running out of gas as motorists rushed to top off their tanks.

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