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The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland Paperback – August 14, 2003
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For the better part of a week, nearly every man, woman, and child in Gander and the surrounding smaller towns stopped what they were doing so they could help. They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of man at a time when it was easy to doubt such humanity still existed.
When thirty-eight jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001, due to the closing of United States airspace, the citizens of this small community were called upon to come to the aid of more than six thousand displaced travelers.
Roxanne and Clarke Loper were excited to be on their way home from a lengthy and exhausting trip to Kazakhstan, where they had adopted a daughter, when their plane suddenly changed course and they found themselves in Newfoundland. Hannah and Dennis O'Rourke, who had been on vacation in Ireland, were forced to receive updates by telephone on the search for their son Kevin, who was among the firefighters missing at the World Trade Center. George Vitale, a New York state trooper and head of the governor's security detail in New York City who was returning from a trip to Dublin, struggled to locate his sister Patty, who worked in the Twin Towers. A family of Russian immigrants, on their way to the Seattle area to begin a new life, dealt with the uncertainty of conditions in their future home.
The people of Gander were asked to aid and care for these distraught travelers, as well as for thousands more, and their response was truly extraordinary. Oz Fudge, the town constable, searched all over Gander for a flight-crew member so that he could give her a hug as a favor to her sister, a fellow law enforcement officer who managed to reach him by phone. Eithne Smith, an elementary-school teacher, helped the passengers staying at her school put together letters to family members all over the world, which she then faxed. Bonnie Harris, Vi Tucker, and Linda Humby, members of a local animal protection agency, crawled into the jets' cargo holds to feed and care for all of the animals on the flights. Hundreds of people put their names on a list to take passengers into their homes and give them a chance to get cleaned up and relax.
The Day the World Came to Town is a positively heartwarming account of the citizens of Gander and its surrounding communities and the unexpected guests who were welcomed with exemplary kindness.
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So when I read this book, I had all my views flung into the Hudson River. Amid one of the most horrific days in human history, when 19 fanatics cold-bloodedly butchered thousands of human beings in a series of well-planned and ghastly attacks, the people of a fairly small town in a quiet and relatively obscure corner of the world displayed the highest levels of humanity, warmth, and hospitality, taking into their homes, schools, gymnasiums, and hearts thousands of innocent travelers who were caught stranded by this horror of history.
"The Day the World Came to Town" tells of how ordinary Canadians and equally ordinary airline passengers coped with being trapped together in the town of Gander during the days in which the entire United States' airspace was shut down. The small airport was packed with planes from all over the world, the town with people from across the globe, of every ethnicity, faith, and type.
The Canadians did everything possible to make these unsought guests as comfortable and welcome as possible. The guests in turn did everything they could to minimize their footprint on the town. And when they left, they did everything they could to thank the community -- there are scholarships established by some of the groups of then-stranded passengers to support education there: here is the website for one of them, run by the Columbus Foundation:
And the passengers built warm personal relationships with the folks in Gander, going back for the 10th anniversary:
The writing is warm, close, lyrical, and focuses on people...the local Hugo Boss owner who gets to meet the big chief when his plane is stranded there...the family bringing home an adopted child from Eastern Europe...another family worried about the fate of their NYFD firefighter nephew (I won't give that ending away)...the London Rabbi who needs a special diet and wants to help others...the local residents who provide everything they have to visitors...the RSPCA inspectors who take care of the pets on the planes...the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant who gets permission to wear the "red serge" when the passengers finally leave...the famous artist's gift to a school.
After reading this book, I found myself having faith in humanity again. Maybe, in spite of the endless cavalcade of bullies, bad news, sadists, terrorists, uncaring rulers, tyrants, self-serving egomaniacs, and other human monsters that seem to define, rule, and carve up the world to their benefit...human beings are not so bad after all.
Maybe Anne Frank was right: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart."
This book makes you believe that.
Why did I decide to read this book? I recently had the opportunity to see the outstanding musical “Come from Away” which tells many of the same stories. After seeing the theatre production, I wanted to learn more. This book expanded on some of the events portrayed in the show, and added a few others.
One stranded couple DeFede follows had a family member who was thought to be at the Trade Center. For days they were unable to get information about their loved one but their hosts in Gander never stopped trying and ultimately succeeded in learning his fate. The animals stowed in cargo were treated with tender loving care. Some inhabitants turned their entire houses over to passengers, with instructions to take what they wanted and just close the door on their way out. In this small town solutions were found and accommodations made for an Orthodox Jew and a number of passengers who spoke no English.
The author does a very good job of juggling many different stories and locations. DeFede's book shines a light on the best of humanity during the darkest of times.
The compassion of the people in Newfoundland is absolutely amazing as they did everything possible to help the stranded passengers. They cooked, they donated clothing and bedding, they offered their homes to complete strangers so they could shower and get comfortable. Everyone in this town went to extraordinary measures to help the passengers and they should be applauded across the globe.
I was not familiar with the true story of what went on in Gander and I loved reading about what wonderful and compassionate people live there. The book makes you want to visit Gander and hug and thank everyone there for their extraordinary kindness
Top international reviews
Gander turned out to be a strategic location – once the 2 planes hit the Twin Towers, the US authorities quickly shut down US airspace. That meant 100s of planes in the air had to either land immediately in the US, or else if they were over the Atlantic, decide to land in Canada or return to Europe. Over 30 planes landed in Gander that day, so nearly 10,000 unexpected visitors arriving in a small town of similar size. How do you feed these people? Where do they sleep? How long will they here?
What was great about this book – it’s not just about a tragic day in all our lives, but it plays out over a week after that infamous day. Both the residents of Gander who opened up their homes, schools and hearts to accommodate thousands of stranded passengers. People volunteered their time to help out, bakers made tons of bread, schools and gym halls opened up, locals donated blankets, food, toys.
I liked the mixed narrative of the book – it told the story from about 20-30 individual perspectives. From Lufthansa pilots, to air traffic controllers, to retired locals, to Texans returning from Russia after adopting a little girl, to an Irish lady returning from visiting family, to the CEO of Hugo Boss, to a US Army General who was responsible for security/intelligence in Europe. That day was a leveller – if you were in first class sipping champagne, or a jaded parent with kids, you were all treated the same when you landed in Gander. No time for deference or preferential treatment.
The unknowns were endless: when will we get home? What happened in New York? Do my family know where I am? Are my family or friends in New York ok? Where the hell are we? Some people thought about driving home – even if it was thousands of miles to Texas!
The writing is easy to follow and will give yo a sense of proximity to the stories depicted.
I surely would like to visit Newfoundland and take a taste of the welcoming qualities of its people.
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