Business grinds to near-halt, airports shut down across nation

NEW YORK -- Workers were sent home and shop doors locked shut at many businesses in a badly shaken nation's response to the terrorist attacks in New York City and the nation's capital Tuesday.

A suspension of air traffic nationwide crippled operations at businesses that rely on air transportation, such as package carriers FedEx and United Parcel Service. Evacuation of landmark buildings, such as the Sears Tower in Chicago, seriously disrupted activity at many firms.

Other companies, from Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta to Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., canceled meetings and closed their headquarters.

"This is a national tragedy, and our sympathy goes out to all those affected," said Nick Sharkey, a Ford spokesman. "Ford is taking all reasonable precautions for our employees and our facilities."

General Motors allowed employees to go home if they chose, while Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler closed its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., and shut down the second shift of all the automaker's U.S. plants.

Mall operators across the country, including the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and The Taubman Centers, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., company that operates 27 malls in 12 states, closed their doors. Those shopping centers that remained open beefed up security.

Major theme parks across the country, including Disneyland Resorts and Universal Studios Hollywood shuttered their facilities and major sporting events were canceled

In New York, the entire Wall Street area, choked by smoke and rocked by shock waves from the attacks and the subsequent collapse of the World Trade Center towers, was shut down. With bridges to Manhattan closed and subway and train service disrupted, many offices closed. The Rockefeller Center buildings were mostly evacuated.

Saks Fifth Avenue closed its flagship Manhattan store, but others, including Bloomingdale's, stayed open, not only serving shoppers but also providing havens for employees stranded without public transportation.

"If they have to be here, we will be here," said Anne Keating, spokeswoman for the department store. "Companies have ordered blankets from us for their employees to sleep on."

Many business owners outside the targeted areas of New York and Washington, said they closed because they knew their workers were worried about friends and family, and about nation's overall security.

"It is a time when people need to be with their families. We recognize that and have closed all our business operations," said Jim Eldred, chief financial officer for Cincinnati-based Human ChoiceCare, a division of Louisville, Ky.'s Humana Inc., a health care company employing 15,000 people across the country.

"It is hitting everybody. It is incredible how many people have connections to people who work there," Eldred said, noting that at least a dozen workers at their Cincinnati office friends or family who work in downtown New York.

Printer maker Lexmark International closed operations, telling its 5,000 workers to go home, Tuesday afternoon but said it would be business as usual Wednesday.

"We are here in the heartland, far away from the east coast, but people will want to be with families," said Tim King, spokesman for the Lexington, Ky. company.

Some companies tried to go about their normal day of business, but most found it difficult to do so.

"People are concerned and upset ... it is not a typical day," said Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Mutual of Omaha. The company gave updates over its public address system as employees gathered in conference rooms to watch and listen to news reports. A moment of silence was held for those killed and injured in the attacks.

"At this point, everyone in America is glued to their TV sets," said Tom Williams, spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Wal-Mart was keeping stores open but allowed employees, especially those on the East Coast, to go home.

'It's slow -- clearly. What most people are doing is sitting at a TV set. Obviously, people are in shock and they want to get as much information as they can," said Jerre Bryant, general manager of Maine Mall, in South Portland, Maine, the state's largest shopping mall.