Nevada goes on heightened alert after air attacks
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Hoover Dam was closed, trucks blocked entrances to the state Capitol, military bases went on highest alert around Nevada and airports in Las Vegas and Reno shut down after terrorist attacks rocked New York and Washington on Tuesday.
Security was increased along the Las Vegas Strip, and the city’s tallest structure the Stratosphere hotel-casino’s 1,149-foot tower was closed.
While guards checked luggage and deliveries on the Strip, gambling continued at casinos around the city after hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on the 11th day of the ninth month of the year, ironically National 911 Day.
”This was an unprovoked act of war against this country,” said U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who spoke with The Associated Press by telephone from her home two blocks from the Capitol in Washington, D.C. ”Obviously, this was a very sophisticated and well-planned attack.”
All four members of Nevada’s congressional delegation were reported to be safe, and Grant Ashley, special agent in charge of the Las Vegas FBI office said there were no reports of casualties among any of the congressional delegations across the country.
”Our first concern now is for the catastrophic loss of life,” Berkley said. ”We’re going to have to determine how we are going to address this attack. We cannot equivocate.”
Hoover Dam was closed at both sides of the dam, blocking U.S. Highway 93, a main thoroughfare between Phoenix and Las Vegas. Traffic was diverted to Laughlin and routed through Kingman, Ariz. The Rye Patch Dam near Lovelock also was closed.
Gov. Kenny Guinn said state emergency staffers and all military bases in Nevada were on full alert status.
”It’s a devastating day for us in America,” he said. ”It will affect every single family and family member in America.”
Nellis Air Force Base increased security to its highest level, said 2nd Lt. Carla Pampe, spokeswoman for the base near Las Vegas.
Pampe said that only military personnel and civilian employees were being allowed on the base. An elementary school on the base closed.
Heightened security greeted people arriving at the Naval Air Station in Fallon in northern Nevada.
”We’re taking precautions, absolutely. We’re still open,” NAS Fallon spokeswoman Anne McMillin said. ”We’re taking it slowly and very carefully.
”Everyone here, because of what we do, knows people back at the Pentagon, works with people back at the Pentagon, so there is deep concern for several co-workers and colleagues on the East Coast, whether at the Pentagon or anywhere else.”
The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all aircraft nationwide until at least 9 a.m. PDT Wednesday, stranding passengers and raising concerns for firefighters with lightning storms forecast in northern Nevada.
Guinn said contingency plans were being worked out if firefighting planes remained grounded.
Reno Tahoe International Airport shut down, according to spokesman Adam Mayberry, and access roads were closed.
”The reason why the airport terminal is closed is that no aircraft are flying and there simply is no reason for the public to be here.”
Airlines sent personnel home.
”The airport’s effectively closed indefinitely,” Mayberry said.
At McCarran in Las Vegas, which typically handles about 900 flights a day, the airport terminal remained open, but the airport’s multilevel parking structure was closed. Security checkpoints were closed, blocking access to the gates.
Rental cars sold out at the airport and bus service to Nellis Air Force Base was stopped.
Las Vegas churches opened their doors to stranded tourists, and the Rev. Gary Hunter, pastor of the Greater St. James Baptist Church, collected tourists on a church bus to shuttle them to hotels.
”Whatever’s necessary and needed, we’re willing to help,” Hunter said.
Las Vegas police Sgt. Christopher Darcy said overnight shift patrol officers were held over to work through the morning.
”We’re holding steady,” Darcy said at mid-afternoon. ”We haven’t had any real emergencies.”
Clark County Sheriff Jerry Keller said the Las Vegas Convention Center was closed, interrupting a convention of 30,000 bakers.
Rob Powers, of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said a bomb threat was called in from inside the convention hall.
Schools, including UNLV, and government offices remained open.
In Carson City, several access points around the Capitol building were blocked for about two hours by state trucks. Most are openings in the iron fence used for foot traffic but wide enough for a vehicle to pass through.
Alan Feldman, spokesman for the MGM Mirage Inc., which owns six casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, said hotel security guards were checking loading dock deliveries and inspecting convention group luggage at hotel check-in.
”I think we have taken all reasonable precautions,” Feldman said.
The Stratosphere tower above the Las Vegas Strip was closed along with the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Las Vegas hotel-casino. Other Strip attractions, such as the pirate show at Treasure Island, dancing water fountains at Bellagio and exploding volcanoes at the Mirage, were shut down along with some entertainment acts.
Michael Gilmartin, spokesman for the Stratosphere hotel-casino, said gambling in the casino continued.
Fire officials in surrounding Clark County activated an emergency operations center, and Darcy said Las Vegas police were coordinating security efforts with the FBI and federal officials in Las Vegas.
Ashley said the FBI was not aware of any threats in Nevada.
”We all are at the very highest alert in southern Nevada and in northern Nevada as well,” he said.
Natalie Collins, U.S. District Court spokeswoman in Las Vegas, said police and federal security officers were added at the building – checking vehicles entering the garage and screening pedestrians at a security checkpoint in the lobby.
Workers at the Nevada Test Site were sent home after Energy Department facilities in the state were closed.
Security has been tightened at the Nevada Air National Guard installation next to the Reno Tahoe airport.
The National Championship Air Race at Reno Stead Airport grounded Wednesday’s qualifying runs.
The Reno City Council meeting and a joint meeting with the Washoe County Commission were canceled. All other city offices and schools stayed open.
The Energy Department postponed for at least two weeks two public hearings in southern Nevada on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, said Gayle Fisher, DOE spokeswoman.
Associated Press reporters Tom Gardner, Brendan Riley and Lisa Snedeker contributed to this report.
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