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9-11: Minister has tangible reminders

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Rev. Cynthia Taylor remembers her brief time at ground zero in New York like it was yesterday.

Five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the pastor of the Church of the Holy Comforter still vividly recalls the banners and cards of encouragement and thanks plastered along walls and pews of St. Paul's Chapel, where she ministered for several days in April 2002, only nine months after the towers of the World Trade Center were toppled by two hijacked airliners.

The chapel remained unharmed despite its location at the edge of "the pit" of ruins from the fallen towers. It also served as a place of comfort for workers and volunteers.

Taylor said she received an e-mail on Easter 2002 asking for volunteers to minister and care for recovery workers even though efforts had by then faded into the limelight. For New Yorkers, Taylor said, the efforts were still a priority.

"In my experience in going to New York at that time, even though we went nine months later, for every New Yorker we met, it was Sept. 12. It was just the day after," Taylor said.

Now, with Monday being the fifth anniversary of the attacks on New York, Washington and an airliner that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, Taylor is just one of many who will be remembering that day and how it brought about many changes, even in Columbia County.

She has two tangible reminders of the part she played in the World Trade Center clean-up effort. There's the piece of glass from one of the towers' upper floors that a firefighter gave to her.

"He reached into his pocket and said, 'I've been carrying this around all day and I don't know why, but I think you are supposed to have it,'" Taylor said.

There's also a chunk of marble from a foyer in one of the towers that a construction worker had been carrying in his pocket and gave her.

"I keep thinking I am going to get it framed and I don't because it is a very tactile experience to hold it,'' Taylor said.

"They are still dirty. I have never cleaned them up, and I never will."

Just as dirt continues to mark those relics, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 also have affected area law enforcement and emergency planning.

"Professionally, it added a whole new dimension to emergency planning," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's emergency services director.

She said strict security measures have been added to airports, Fort Gordon, local industries and truck drivers who must partake in Highway Watch terrorism training to obtain a license.

Tucker said there are now plans for how to respond to anthrax and other suspicious mail, suspicious packages, bio-terrorism, mass decontamination, distribution of a strategic national stockpile and many other incidents.

"We have to look at the world and emergency planning in a different way than we used to and constantly work to appropriately balance planning efforts for all emergencies," she said.

Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said that since the attacks, police protocol has changed dramatically. He couldn't divulge details of what is different, but sheriff's personnel are more conscious of intelligence, more willing to share information and more willing to work with others both internally and externally, he said.

"One of the most significant changes in policing since Sept. 11 may be how our officers approach their daily patrols," Morris said.

"Our street officers have expressed significant changes in their hearts and minds. Many first responders lost their lives on Sept. 11, so they understand that they could be impacted or affected by future events. So, on a daily basis, they look at situations and locations a little differently."

Other changes also have occurred.

Beth Petitoea, an American Red Cross donor recruiter for South Carolina and the Augusta area, said that immediately after the attacks, blood donations rose to an unprecedented level.

"Everybody that could give blood came to give blood," Petitoea said, adding that blood has only a 42-day shelf life.

Now, Petitoea said blood donations have returned to the average before the attacks - only 5 percent of the population of those eligible to donate.

Taylor said her experience in New York has changed her as well. Since April 2002, she said she has served as a volunteer chaplain for Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue and she's more aware of what is important in life.


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