Shock and dismay spread Tuesday morning in the Verde Valley as news continued coming in regarding the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the crash of an airliner near Pittsburgh.
"Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward," said President George W. Bush. "And freedom will be defended.
"The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts," he told the nation Tuesday morning from a military base in Louisiana.
The tremendous loss of life in the eastern corridor of the United States cast a pall of national sorrow. The nation faced its worst terrorist attack since the April 1995 bombing of the Fred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the earlier 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
The everyday terror that Israelis have lived with for decades has now been experienced by Americans, too long naïve and somewhat smug about the reality of world terrorism. Tuesday morning, Americans' emotional insulation against such horror was brutally ripped away.
That fear and sorrow was brought home to Arizona and the Verde Valley as Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix – as well as literally every airport across the nation, including Cottonwood's and Sedona's – was closed down and all domestic flights ordered to land by the Federal Aviation Agency.
Verde Valley residents, worried about friends or family on the East Coast, tried to call and e-mail their loved ones, while local officials pondered the horrifying events.
"We are badly shaken," said New York native and Cottonwood resident David Kanowsky.
The Kanowskys spent Tuesday morning tracking down family and friends in New York City. Apparently, all their loved ones were safe.
Kanowsky said they "had a scare" regarding one son who works in the World Trade Center area, but he had been home and away from the crisis. Not long ago, that son had worked at the World Trade Center.
"Twenty years ago, I used to work in the area, and I watched that building go up," Kanowsky said. "It's terrible."
The Kanowskys watched in horror as the catastrophe spread to familiar streets and blocks. Buildings were quickly evacuated, including Kanowsky's alma mater, Stuyvesant High School. The school had prided itself on being in the shadow of the World Trade Center, near the Hudson River.
Cottonwood Mayor Ruben Jauregui said, "It's just devastating – I just can't imagine this happening on our American soil. It's been said before that we are vulnerable; it's kind of scary."
Yavapai County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sharon Wachter said, "We do have our deputies checking our Fair Street building and federal offices in the area. We have heightened security and awareness."
The county's Emergency Services Committee conducted a teleconference at 9 a.m. Arizona time Tuesday to confirm where county resources and departments were in relation to the disaster and the area's precautions.
Cottonwood police Lt. Keith Porter said, "We've (gotten) a call from emergency services. We're on heightened awareness and we're praying."
Cottonwood Fire Chief Mike Casson said, "I've got doubled-up staffing right now. Our people are just sitting and following the events on television."
"Right now, we can just watch and pray," he said, adding that even small-town fire departments have been preparing for terrorism.
"This is the stuff they are teaching us about in schools we are going to," Casson said. "I've been through four or five different classes where domestic terrorism has been the topic of discussion."
He lamented on the loss of life among emergency-services personnel that undoubtedly were at the base of the World Trade Center.
"One of the goals of terrorists is to take out emergency-services people (who) are helping ... The first, second, third, fourth and fifth alarms were at the site, and those buildings came down on top of them," Casson said. "I'm looking at fire trucks on CNN disappearing into the smoke."
Don Eberle, chief of the Verde Rural Fire District, said, "We are acutely aware of what is going on. If there are any move-ups of any other agencies, we'll fill in where needed."
The Camp Verde Fire Department could be one of those units – its Hazardous Materials Unit was put on alert. The department could send volunteers to Phoenix and – as a remote possibility – to New York City.
Camp Verde Fire Chief Phil Harbeson said he and his team are speculating that 100-200 firefighters below the first tower at the World Trade Center were lost when it collapsed. Remaining firefighters probably had been evacuated before the second building went down, he speculated.
It's common for firefighters nationwide to rally when a "sister fire department gets hit like this," said Harbeson. "Every fire department is probably on standby, waiting."
"I've got all my people on standby alert," he said. "I've got my Haz-Mat team on alert. We have an agreement with Phoenix, and we will go if needed."
The fire chief said he was keeping in close contact with Yavapai County Emergency Services and is waiting for the agency to determine where help is most needed.
While a call went out from New York for blood donations from all over, no plans had been made Tuesday morning for blood donations in the Verde Valley area. However, area residents likely would respond well, since a recent blood drive at Verde Valley Medical Center met 133 percent of its goal.
VVMC's director of public affairs, Marguerite Lauri, said, "At this time, Verde Valley Medical Center does not have a blood drive scheduled.
"Because of the greater population density, United Blood Services is taking all donations from the Phoenix area," she said. "UBS is asking potential donors from outlying areas to wait for further information and specifically not to drive to attempt to donate blood."
Guardian Air will be flying only "life and death" missions and only with FAA clearance, Lauri said just before noon Tuesday. No fixed-wing flights will be used at the present time, she added.
Due to concerns for federal employee and public safety, all Prescott National Forest offices and developed recreation sites were closed until further notice. Forest Leadership will actively monitor the national and local situations to determine when day-to-day services will resume.
As of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, World Tours Travel Agency in Cottonwood had received only one call about travel arrangements.
"She had a flight on Southwest (Airlines). We called Southwest and they don't know how long this is going to be like this," said Judy Corwin. "It's affecting anybody and everybody that's traveling."
The travel agent said she didn't know whether anyone on the hijacked flights was from the Verde Valley area.