(Sept. 12, 2001) -- by Christina Ward, DisasterRelief.org
American Red Cross disaster workers throughout the Washington, D.C., area responded immediately after an American Airlines 757 airliner crashed into the side of the Pentagon on Tuesday morning (Sept. 11), shortly after the World Trade Center collisions.
The Arlington County Chapter of the Red Cross, supported by the National Capital Chapter and several other area chapters, mobilized a disaster relief operation and had trained workers on the scene all day and night.
"Much of what we are hearing as we talk to firefighters, rescue workers and soldiers is shock and frustration," said Kim Giles, a Red Cross mental health volunteer from Alexandria, Va., who arrived at the Pentagon in the early afternoon.
"They are exhausted after hours of work, but the fire keeps restarting, preventing them from bringing the victims out."
Giles added that many rescue workers seem grateful to have refreshments and simply to talk for a while. Quite a few asked to borrow Red Cross workers' cell phones, to call their loved ones and let them know they are okay. As the number and identities of victims become clearer in coming days, the need for counseling is expected to greatly increase.
Red Cross teams will also continue to provide food and relief for emergency workers as long as the disaster operation continues.
"We're working with many other groups - the Army, Navy and Air Force, military chaplains, local firefighters, police and other aid agencies - to respond and to prepare for coming hours and days," said Derrick Dortch, a Red Cross disaster worker from the National Capital Chapter who arrived at the Pentagon around noon. "We're setting up tents for food and cots tonight, and we have two donated city buses to use as grief counseling centers."
Louise Berns, the Disaster Action Team commander for the Red Cross Pentagon team, said the coordination among rescue and relief groups has been critical. "We've all come together to help out during this terrible time. The cooperation has been very important and successful."
Fire Truck 101 from the Arlington County Fire Department was one of the first on the scene Tuesday morning. The truck was coming back from a training exercise, and one firefighter on board noticed a plane flying too low as they drove past the Pentagon.
The Red Cross is providing relief -- food, water, counseling -- for soldiers and other workers at the Pentagon. "Suddenly, we saw the huge explosion of the crash," said firefighter Andrea Kaiser.
"We turned the truck and headed to the building as fast as we could." After fighting rush-hour gridlock, the team arrived and rushed to the building to search for survivors.
"I've been inside - it's terrible," she said, shaking her head and looking at the ground. "I have no idea how many people died. It's impossible to know." She and her team were headed back to the fire station around midnight to rest and return by morning.
"It's a horrible, tangled mess in there," said another distraught Arlington County firefighter, describing the wreckage of the plane and the remnants of smashed offices inside the rubble.
"It's awful - like an earthquake hit, or something. It's like nothing you've ever seen."