Saturday, May 14, 2005

I was evacuated out of the U.S. Capitol

and other harrowing adventures from the Berean school senior trip

I'm not going to have time to blog at length about this--it's the first time I've been able to get to a computer on this trip--but yes, I was at the U.S. Capitol building last Wednesday when it was evacuated. Of course, as we know now, it was just because of a small airplane that had made a big mistake and wandered into the no-fly zone. But at the time, no one knew that, and it was pretty frightening!

Our group of fourteen--six girls, six boys, my husband and myself--were waiting in an awning just outside the Capitol building to visit the House of Representatives gallery. We were next in line to go inside the building, when suddenly the group that had gone ahead of us starting coming back toward us. "They're telling us to leave," a woman explained helplessly, and that was when we started hearing people urgently yelling at us to "run, get out, move, run!!!"

People started running frantically off the grounds, herded by police officers and other staff members who kept shouting at us like drill sergeants--one cop even shouted loudly, "Don't you remember 9/11? This is not a drill! RUN!!!"

Meantime, sirens off all kinds were sounding, official cars were zooming by with police escorts, whistles were blowing, and we heard fighter jets overhead. My first reaction was confusion, then disbelief--"This CAN'T be happening!" Then fear sets in, then self-preservation. My husband was struggling to keep our group together. Girls were having trouble running because of sandals and flip-flops; one boy in our group lost a shoe at one point and had to get it back on; all the while people continued to yell at us to "run! move! get out of here!"

I don't know how far we ran, maybe only a few blocks, but we re-grouped in front of the Department of Health and Human Services building, and shortly afterward a security guard informed us that the all-clear had been given. Shaken, out of breath, still on edge but relieved, we started calling family members on our cell phones.

We had been scheduled to meet with our congressman, Don Manzullo, at 2:30 PM. A quick call to his office confirmed the meeting was still on; capitol tours had even resumed.

After meeting with Don, (who I've known since before he was a congressman), he escorted us through the underground passageway from the Rayburn office building to the Capitol, and one of his assistants made sure we got our tour and gallery visit after all.

Looking back on the whole experience, it seems slightly surreal. At the time of the evacuation, I truly thought I was in danger of dying. It really was the scariest thing that I've ever gone through. The fact that we now know there was no real threat doesn't diminish the very real fear we experienced at the time.

Definitely, the Berean senior class will never forget their senior trip!

The drama actually continued on Thursday night, when we went to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and had an adventure on the New Jersey transit system. But that's a blog for another time.

To add insult to injury, a pigeon pooped on my shirt in Manhattan last night.

We still have a few days left in our trip. Say a prayer if you will, that things will go smoothly from here on out! :)

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