Associated Press Writer
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- The Navy dispatched aircraft carriers and guided missile destroyers to New York and Washington after Tuesday's terrorist attacks as the president put the military on its highest level of alert.
"We have been attacked like we haven't since Pearl Harbor," Adm. Robert J. Natter said at the Norfolk Navy base.
Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, sent the ships to assist with defense and medical needs.
The ships include the carriers USS John F. Kennedy and Norfolk-based USS George Washington, which were headed to New York, an Atlantic Fleet spokesman said. Each has a crew of 2,500 to 3,000 sailors, and the JFK's airwing has about 1,500 sailors.
The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship in Baltimore harbor, also was made available.
Also deployed were amphibious ships, guided missile cruisers and guided missile destroyers that are capable of responding to threats from the air and sea. The amphibious ships were carrying Marines and sailors to provide security, surgical teams and limited hospital bed capacity.
Meanwhile, President Bush ordered the nation's military to "high-alert status," and vowed to "hunt down and punish those responsible" for the attacks, which were expected to carry a high death toll.
The president was in Florida at the time of the attacks and was flown to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. Congressional leaders were led to the safety of an undisclosed location, and military aircraft were reported patrolling the skies above the capital.
Natter placed naval installations under his command on the highest security condition. He is in charge of 188 ships, 1,223 aircraft, 37 shore stations and more than 125,000 sailors and Marines and civilian employees. The Atlantic Fleet provides combat-ready forces to support American and NATO commanders in regions of conflict throughout the world.
Navy officials would not give details about security measures, but Atlantic Fleet spokesman Mark McDonald acknowledged that some measures include banning anyone but essential personnel at the naval base, the world's largest.
Around the country, fighters, airborne radar and refueling planes were scrambled, according to an air national guard spokesman at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command was also on its highest alert.
"We have all of our air sovereignty aircraft -- fighters, surveillance and other support aircraft -- ready to respond," NORAD said in a statement.
The U.S. portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway was also closed, said Lynn Duerod, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.
Earlier this summer, all three Army bases in Hampton Roads, including Fort Eustis and Fort Story, began restricting public access for security reasons. The bases did so under an order affecting major Army installations around the country.
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