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South Florida’s government, legal and business establishments reeled in stunned horror and along with the rest of the nation scrambled to take measures against dangers both real and perceived in the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Courthouses and government buildings shut down or went on high alert; law offices closed up shop as attorneys frantically called New York inquiring about colleagues and loved ones; and building managers shut down office towers fearing they might somehow become targets. “I do have my window blinds open, in case I see any planes that are flying too low” said Angel Castillo Jr., of counsel at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, from his office on the 53rd floor of Florida’s tallest building, the First Union Financial Center in downtown Miami. “A few foolhardy people like myself are still doing things, but most are going home,” he said, planning to leave the office at about 1 p.m. “I asked my wife, who’s also a lawyer, to go home and pick up our 13-year-old son at school.” And so it went throughout the region, as the tragedy that began in lower Manhattan struck home, in some cases far too close to home. Shortly before 9 a.m. a hijacked airliner flew into a World Trade Center tower. Soon after, the second tower was hit in like fashion. By about 10:30 a.m., both buildings had collapsed amid debris, flame and smoke. Castillo held his breath until learning that his daughter Arielle, 17, a freshman at New York University, about 1.5 miles from the Twin Towers, was OK. But Phillipa Williams, an aide to Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell, left the office in tears after telling associates that her brother works on one of the trade center’s topmost floors. It took only moments after news broke of the terror attacks for officials and business leaders to begin reacting to the tragedy. Miami-Dade and Broward counties declared emergencies early in the day and closed most government offices; the city of Miami also shut down. State courts in both counties closed by early afternoon. Lower courts remained open in Palm Beach County, but as of 2 p.m., trials and other activities ceased. Throughout South Florida, state appellate courts stayed open, while federal courts closed and will remain closed today. Many other federal offices closed, but their status for the remainder of the week is unclear. State and county offices were also in limbo, as authorities met to decide what to do next. “I was starting a trial this morning and counsel for the plaintiff was very concerned about whether the jurors would be focused,” said U.S. District Judge Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. in Fort Lauderdale. “I gave the jurors who hadn’t heard anything a little synopsis. One or two of them were obviously in tears. I recessed for the day.” Around noon, Palm Beach Clerk of the Court Dorothy Wilken e-mailed employees informing them they could use a vacation day and leave for the rest of the day. Wilken spokesman Steve Nichol said employees were affected not just emotionally by the day’s events, but in practical ways, too. With schools and day care centers closing, some employees had to scurry to make arrangements for their children to be supervised, he said. Law enforcement was visible everywhere — and invisible, in plain clothes — as police closed Flagler Street in Miami, sheriff’s deputies checked parked cars near the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale and two marked cars stood outside the Palm Beach County Courthouse where normally there are none. At courthouse metal detectors, there was double the number of personnel than usual screening people entering the courthouse. “We’re putting all our resources out there,” said Palm Beach Sheriff’s Capt. Terry Rowe, who is in charge of court services. “We’ve never had this.” Broward deputies did not search a hot dog cart in front of the courthouse but did tell operator by Don Schultz to move his business elsewhere. In any event, things were slow. “There was a little bit of business today, but now they’re shutting everything down,” Schultz said. The area’s three seaports all put up their guards. “We have heightened security and implemented a check on all trucks and passenger cars coming in,” said Port of Palm Beach Executive Director Anthony Taormina. Port security officers were not searching cars but were asking people to turn back unless they had specific business at the port. “We’re still open and operating on a limited basis,” Taormina said at mid-day. The Port of Miami also increased security, as did Port Everglades in mid-afternoon. Many officials openly showed their emotions. Miami-Dade Commissioner Gwen Margolis was crying and visibly shaken, along with a number of county legislative aides. “This is a very sad day in America,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. “We don’t know who our enemies are now.” The Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections’ office, on the ground floor of the 12-story county building and ground zero during last year’s presidential election, was open, awaiting word from the county administration office on whether to close. Staffers and people in and out of the building on business gathered quietly to watch the three television screens in the lobby. The same sense of astonishment permeated area law firms, as some closed, while others gave staff members the option of working or going home. “We have closed up shop because many of our employees have children who are being let out of school. Generally, most people want to be near their families,” said Tom Lehman of Tew Cardenas Rebak Kellogg Lehman DeMaria Tague Raymond & Levine in downtown Miami. Phones went unanswered at the offices of Carlton Fields, Broad and Cassel and Kluger Peretz Kaplan & Berlin in Miami, with voice mail recordings simply giving office hours. At Feldman Gale & Weber a voice mail recording said the office closed because of the attacks. Stearns Weaver initially said staff members at offices in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa could leave work if they chose but by about noon decided to close. Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell offices also closed at noon. “Everyone is calling here canceling meetings that we have here or elsewhere. It’s a snowball effect,” said Robert Josefsberg of Podhurst Orseck Podhurst Josefsberg, which closed at noon. “People are concerned about being downtown. It’s not a panic, but there is a reaction of concern.” Holland & Knight’s New York offices are across from the World Trade Center, but Karen Schoening, a firm spokeswoman, said through tears that all the firm’s employees were safe. Holland & Knight offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles and Tampa closed, but the Miami office didn’t. “The decisions were made locally,” she said. Greenberg Traurig has three offices in New York, one downtown in the MetLife Building on Park Avenue. It was safely evacuated at 10 a.m., and the 200 or so lawyers went to the two other offices. “Due to its status as a landmark building in New York, our 200 Park Ave. location has now been closed indefinitely,” read a note sent from Greenberg’s New York offices to the rest of the firm, describing difficult business and travel conditions in Manhattan. “Please keep these conditions in mind when dealing with our New York office today.” Greenberg Traurig later closed its offices in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago and Tysons Corner, Va., just outside of Washington. The firm’s Miami office remained open. Many major South Florida commercial real estate developers and building managers put their buildings in emergency operations mode as soon as they heard of the attacks. Increased security and early closings were the order of the day in high-rise office towers in downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but concern also reached into suburban areas, property managers said. In Broward County, the Stiles Corp. put about 40 of its downtown and suburban buildings in what chairman Terry Stiles called a lock-down. “We have a hurricane alert team we activated to put the buildings into lock-down, and alerted tenants,” Stiles said. Tenants in high-rise offices in Fort Lauderdale’s downtown financial district with ties to New York were especially concerned, Stiles said. At One Financial Plaza in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where Bank of America is the key tenant, the loading dock was locked and guarded, and entrants to the parking garage questioned and monitored, said Tamar Lubow, general manager of Mainstreet Real Estate Services Inc., housing in the building. The high-rise building was scheduled to close at 3 p.m. Tuesday. “This building is usually available 24 hours a day, but it’ll be locked until 7 a.m.,” she said, adding that tenants “have been leaving like it’s 5 p.m. on Friday.” John K. Scott, president of the Greater Miami-Dade chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association, said how long property precautions would last depends largely on when Wall Street and major airports resume operations. Nationwide, property owners were taking similar actions, said D.K. Mink, president of the trade group’s South Florida division. Mink said calls among property managers and owners throughout the country indicate the fear is strongest in high-profile offices in downtown business districts and near major airports. And it was fear that more than anything else summed up the mood of the day. Fear not of the known but of the unknown, fear of the knowledge that the country’s bounds had been breached and anyone could be a target. Kendrick Whittle, a solo Miami attorney, was turned away from the Miami-Dade courthouse while trying to file a brief. He was handling an immigration asylum case in U.S. Immigration Court when he got a call about the attack. The judge said lawyers could go home, but Whittle said he stayed right where he was until the building was evacuated. “It’s scary when things like this happen,” he said. “I didn’t feel secure at all. I was just trying to get the hell out of there.” This article was reported by Frank Alvarado, Dan Christensen, Tony Doris, Jimmy Hancock, Larry Keller, Julie Kay, Harris Meyer, Adam Miller, Susan R. Miller, Anika Myers, Hugo Ottolenghi, Terry Sheridan and Carol Wright. It was written by Neil Reisner.

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