Maui watches, waits, mourns

Maui County awoke to a new, more frightening world yesterday. The United States had been attacked by a skilled, well-prepared, unidentified enemy using commercial jetliners as weapons.

An eerie quiet settled over Maui as the airport was shut down, leaving the sky over the central isthmus empty except for a few clouds. The main in-and-out artery for the island’s visitor industry – Dairy Road in Kahului – took on the look of a holiday morning. Normally bustling gasoline station/convenience stores on the route were strangely quiet. Visitors were urged to stay close to their hotels and resorts.

From 9,000 miles away, the events of early Sept. 11 underlined the strength of Maui’s ties with the Mainland and just how fragile those ties are. The terrorist weapons used in the attacks were fully loaded, fully fueled airliners, the same sort of machines that make Maui’s economy and lifestyle possible. At the same time, the terrorists’ choice of weapons reached across all those miles to touch the lives of nearly every Mauian. All of the U.S. commercial air flights were grounded, and that included interisland flights in Hawaii. Just getting to another island was impossible.

As the day wore on, the horror of the events on the East Coast became engraved on the minds of islanders who watched, over and over, the smoking, collapsing World Trade Center towers, the immense hole in the side of the Pentagon and the crater in the Pennsylvania countryside.

It was disturbing to learn that President George W. Bush was somewhere in the sky, and that all but essential personnel had been evacuated from the White House. Then it was learned that Air Force One had set down at a remote U.S. Air Force base in Louisiana. The president made a terse statement that was more ominous than reassuring then flew off, first to Nebraska then to Washington, D.C., but – at that time – no one was saying so.

The inevitable comparisons were made to Dec. 7, 1941. Maui learned about that attack early on a Sunday morning via radio, and, like yesterday, held its breath. But, stealth was the only similarity between yesterday’s attacks and the one that launched the United States – and Hawaii – into World War II.

Yesterday began a new era, one in which unknown enemies with unknown agendas could strike at the heart of our country with devastating force and unimaginable consequences. Ancient scholars said, “And in time, this too shall pass.” It will, but the scars of Sept. 11, 2001, will linger for a lifetime.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.