Special Reports

Top story of 2001: SLO County shaken by 9/11 terrorist attacks

Alita Boyle, 17, and Ashley Shurick, 17, reflect on the Sept. 11th attack at a  candlelight vigil in Arroyo Grande in 2001. Photo by Jayson Mellom
Alita Boyle, 17, and Ashley Shurick, 17, reflect on the Sept. 11th attack at a candlelight vigil in Arroyo Grande in 2001. Photo by Jayson Mellom

Editor's note: Here is the story Tribune staff chose as the biggest story of the year in 2001. The article, originally published on Dec. 28, 2001, is reprinted below.

Armed guards at the airport. Top-secret security measures at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Fund-raising efforts, candlelight vigils and unity rallies. A local woman grieving for her sister.

These are the ways in which the terrorist attacks reached across the continent to San Luis Obispo.

The effect was immediate and, in some cases, direct. Heritage Ranch resident Grace Benedetti's sister was on American Airlines Flight 11 when it slammed into one of the World Trade Center towers.

Meanwhile, travelers were stranded in SLO and local residents were marooned elsewhere when air traffic was grounded after the attacks.

When the San Luis Obispo airport reopened, parking was restricted. Armed National Guard soldiers arrived in late October for added safety.

Diablo Canyon officials clamped down on security and limited access to the plant, even though officials said it was not a likely terrorist target.

There were also positives to be glimpsed. Local Islamic leaders reported overwhelming support, even as 70 cases of hate crimes against Muslims and Arab-Americans were being investigated around California.

The unity seen across the nation was also evident here. American flags were displayed everywhere. More than 100 people gathered on the steps of the Atascadero City Hall on Sept. 12 for prayer and songs. In later weeks, students in San Miguel sold homemade bookmarks to raise money for the New York rescue efforts, and local fire departments gathered donations for their East Coast brethren.

Locals also got directly involved in the rescue effort, including Michael Bonnano, a former New York firefighter and current Morro Bay resident who was on the East Coast during the attacks. And as the country's recovery from the attack turned into a war on its attackers, Dr. Rushdi Abdul Cader from the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center emergency room left with the International Medical Corps to help care for Afghan refugees.

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