CATASTROPHE TESTS STATE

JAMES ODATO and JAY JOCHNOWITZ Capitol Bureau
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Calling Tuesday's destruction of the World Trade Center towers ``an attack upon America and an attack upon New York,'' Gov. George Pataki activated the National Guard to assist New York City in disaster efforts and, at midday, sent thousands of frightened state workers in Albany home.


The guard dispatched a special Civil Support Team to assist in identifying hazardous materials related to disasters. Nearly 2,500 National Guard troops were being mobilized and readied for deployment Tuesday night to help with security and medical transport, Pataki's office said, while 300 State Police troopers were expected to join 200 others already in the city.


Pataki announced Tuesday night that President Bush had approved his request for a major federal disaster declaration, which will provide financial assistance to help the state deal with recovery efforts, ranging from the costs of debris removal, emergency services and replacing public facilities, to temporary housing, unemployment assistance, and medical and funeral expenses.


At Stewart Airport in Newburg the state set up a staging area by nightfall for coordinating equipment and supplies, including two refrigerator trucks donated by Price Chopper and Shop Rite, medical supplies, Humvees, tractor trailers, loaders, dump trucks, and more than 100 ambulances and EMS crews borrowed from squads around the state.


The state Senate canceled plans for a session today. But with a deadline looming Saturday, when the authorization for $51 billion in spending will expire, legislative leaders said they would bring lawmakers back by the end of the week to act on the long-delayed state budget.


The state's emergency operations center, housed in an underground bunker beneath the W. Averell Harriman Office Campus, opened for full operation for the first time since the Y2K scare on Jan. 1, 2000. State Police double-checked credentials of anyone entering the facility, which was built to withstand a nuclear attack.


On hand in the center were about 75 representatives of 22 agencies and several private human services organizations, including the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross. At the front of the main room, news reports ran on large TV screens. Officials acknowledged those were their main sources for up-to-date information.


Pataki appeared at a Manhattan news conference with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on what he described as ``a horrible, horrible day,'' calling for calm. ``We're going to get through this. And we're going to get through this strong,'' the governor said.


At one time, Pataki's predecessors had offices on the 58th floor of World Trade Center Tower One. But the state has been moving offices out of the complex since the 1980s. More than 300 employees of the state departments of Transportation, Tax and Finance and the Court of Claims are still assigned there, according to Pataki spokeswoman Suzanne Morris.


She said it was ``too early to tell'' what happened to those people.


Denyce Duncan Lacy, a spokeswoman for the Public Employees Federation, said PEF's members at the trade center include about 50 DOT workers on the 82nd floor, 170 tax workers on the 87th floor and 90 employees of the the National Development Research Inc., a quasi-state agency that does drug research, on the 16th floor.


She said PEF is alerting its health care members -- particularly doctors and nurses -- to pitch in and help the relief effort.


The Civil Service Employees Association was concerned about members assigned to the trade center at the State Waterfront Commission, Banking Department and Tax Department, said spokesman Steve Madarsz. Many of the tax workers are compliance officers who work in the field and may have escaped harm, he noted.


Around noon in Albany, Pataki dismissed nonessential state workers, some of whom left even before they were authorized to do so.


``I don't care,'' one Division of Budget employee said. ``I'm going. I don't want to die at the Capitol. I want to die at my home.''


Workers in the 42-story, 596-foot Corning Tower, the tallest building between New York City and Montreal, were particularly worried they were sitting in a potential target.


``Everybody -- we were sick to our stomachs,'' said Dianna Sluus, a secretary on the 36th floor. ``You could just feel it: We're next. ... It's a state of panic. Are we a target? Are we next?''


Some listened to radios or flocked around televisions at work stations.


``Everybody had their blinds open seeing if there were any planes in the air,'' said Rosanne Eretano, a Public Service Commission employee who works in Building 3 of the Empire State Plaza.


State troopers with dogs searched the Capitol and grounds, and signs advised visitors that deliveries were being halted. Only people with state-issued IDs were allowed in.


The attack came as New York leaders were still arguing about the budget. The Legislature was preparing to return to Albany this week to at least approve $51 billion in reappropriations, money allocated in past years but requiring reauthorization to continue spending after Sept. 15.


Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno canceled plans to bring his chamber back into session today, but spokeswoman Marcia White said the Republican-led Senate will return by the week's end to reauthorize the funds and deal with any legislation necessary to assist New York City.


``It's time to step back and reassess our priorities ... to assist the families and the victims and the people of New York state as we attempt to deal with this atrocity,'' she said.


The Democrat-dominated Assembly will return Thursday and certainly reauthorize the funding, said Speaker Sheldon Silver. He said he would also work toward a broader agreement to supplement the bare-bones $79.6 billion budget passed by the Legislature last month.


Perhaps, he said, the tragedy will help close a budget deal.


``You realize how petty some of the political squabbling is in light of the events of today,'' he said.


The fiscal feud and the World Trade Center disaster converged unexpectedly in a morning church service that was originally designed to focus on highlighting the importance of the budget to thousands of nonprofit agencies. With the attacks on the trade center and the Pentagon, the prayer vigil at Emmanuel Baptist Church expanded into a call for peace.


``We come together to the task of trying to heal the world,'' said the Rev. Jill Farnham, who spoke to 60 people gathered at the interfaith prayer service.