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the world came to town

As the 15th anniversary of the day the United States was attacked by Islamic extremists nears. I am again amazed by how much about that day, and the days that followed that I don’t know. Like the rest of the world I was glued to my TV (actually, as the mother of two children under the age of 10, I was glued to the TV when they were at school in an attempt to shield them from it). But despite being saturated by minute to minute updates there was much that was overlooked or skimmed by the media. The contribution of the people of Gander, Newfoundland is one of those stories.

Remember when our airspace was shut down for days on end? No airplanes in or out of the United States. Have you ever wondered what happened to the planes that were actually IN THE AIR when the FAA declared our skies “closed”? Some turned around and returned to their departure airport. But some were too close to the US to return to their departure airport. They had to land somewhere, anywhere before their fuel ran out. That’s how 38 jets carrying thousands of people ended up in Gander, an area made up of tiny towns filled mostly with blue collar workers…in other words the Schuylkill County of Newfoundland. Imagine 5000 people showing up at the Schuylkill County airport speaking a multitude of languages who all needed to be fed, housed and put in contact with their frightened families who were wondering where they were. Oh, and by the way, they would staying indefinitely.What would we do?

The Day the World Came to Town is the story of what Gander did. This book is both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. It’s wonderful to learn of people that, while for days we were faced with true evil, the people of Gander were opening their arms to complete strangers. Trust me, this book will make you cry. But on the flip side there is also humor and ridiculous situations that will make you laugh out loud. Author Jim DeFede weaves together multiple stories: passengers, townspeople, town and airport officials and tells us about their experiences both the big (one customs official in all of Gander–imagine that line!) and the small (the woman who answered phones and was asked to pass on a hug to a stranded passenger). This book tells the story of just a few days but it encompasses so many different experiences that it is constantly revealing something new. Learn about a town that didn’t spend those days in September glues to their TVs — they didn’t have the time.

More About the Book:

“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.”

Jim DeFede’s book The Day the World Came to Town (Harper Collins, 2002) is the true story of 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.