Today marks 20 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the day that changed our nation – and our state.
Almost 3,000 people were killed that day, making it the deadliest foreign attack on American soil. About 40 percent of them remain unidentified.
Here are some of the ways 9/11 had an immediate and lasting impact on our state.
– Hours after the attacks, one of the largest and most intense investigations in the history of the FBI’s Las Vegas division would unfold at astonishing speed. Four of the 19 hijackers had visited Las Vegas between May and August 2001. But why? The investigation ended without a concrete answer, although two dominant theories emerged in the investigation reports. One suggests that Al-Qaida terrorists have come to Las Vegas to search for potential targets. The other assumes they were in Las Vegas planning the attacks. Grant Ashley, the special agent in charge at the time, thinks it is the latter.
– The country’s airspace was emptied for the first time in history, instantly blocking around 70 local flights. More than 10,000 people had to be evacuated from McCarran International Airport that morning and returned to their hotels. McCarran remained closed and nearly empty until the morning of September 13, when it reopened to even longer ticket lines. The first flight, to Hawaii, took off around noon.
– The instantaneous interruption of travel has given way to a sharp drop in tourism. In the two weeks following the attacks, up to 15,000 employees were laid off from Las Vegas casinos. Several properties on the Strip have put their expansion plans on hold for months, or even years in some cases. In the spring of 2002, some properties started hiring again, although the fiscal year ended with about 6,000 fewer casino jobs on the Strip.
– Visitors and locals, eager to donate blood, arrived at the blood banks in such numbers that a Nevada National Guard cargo plane was dispatched to Puerto Rico to retrieve more blood bags from from a manufacturer.
– Car rental agencies and the bus station in downtown Las Vegas have been overrun with visitors stranded by the airport closure. Local car dealers have even reported an increase in business as some desperate travelers decided the only way out was to buy a car, drive it home, and sell it.
– At approximately 9 a.m. local time, the order was given to close US Highway 93 and evacuate all vehicles and visitors from the top of the Hoover Dam for the first time since World War II. The highway reopened three days later, but long-distance semi-trailers were never allowed to cross the dam again.
– Barbara Edwards, 58, a teacher at Palo Verde High School, was the only full-time Las Vegas resident killed on the day of the attacks. Edwards was on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC Twenty years later, the high school still holds a ceremony in his honor each year to mark the anniversary of the attacks. Her son Scott said at this year’s ceremony: “I think she would be blown away and grateful, but I also think she would say, ‘Oh, you don’t have to do this for me.'”
– The loss of Ron and Nancy May is an integral part of the country’s history. Their daughter, Renee, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 77, is one of two people known to make phone calls from the plane before it crashed. She called her parents in Las Vegas at 6:12 am local time to tell them that her flight had been hijacked. The minutes of this final call are published in the 9/11 Commission Report.
– Prior to the 20th anniversary, nearly 15,700 post-9/11 veterans were enrolled in the state’s two largest veterans systems. Fifty-seven servicemen who listed Nevada as their home state died in the war on terror, according to a national database.
– While the real New York City was still smoldering, a spontaneous memorial sprang to life in front of the fake version of the city on the Las Vegas Strip. The memorial outside of New York-New York would swell to include more than 6,000 items, mostly T-shirts from police and firefighters across the country. For help, hotel officials turned to UNLV to collect and catalog each item. Today, the articles are kept in 491 boxes at the university library.