9/11 attacks mark start of millennium

Editor's note: The Herald is looking back as the first decade of the millennium wraps up. This is the first of a 10-day series recounting the top local news stories of that decade.

The top local story of 2001 also was the nation's top story -- the hellish terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Mid-Columbians immediately rallied in support of their wounded nation.

The attacks reminded us of our own vulnerabilities in an area where materials were stored that could make nuclear weapons. Not to mention one of the nation's top stockpiles of nerve gas, a nuclear power plant and a critical system of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers that offered other potential targets.

Within hours of the attacks, the Tri-City Herald published the first special edition in its history, and more than 400 readers lined up to pick up copies as they rolled off the press.

Hundreds of Tri-Citians hurried to donate blood. Schools and churches responded with special programs to help people cope with the shock. Businesses posted words of patriotic encouragement and prayers for America, and American flags popped up in home windows and car bumpers.

And several Tri-City firefighters went to ground zero in New York City to help with recovery operations.

The other top stories of 2001 were:

No. 2. Drought hammered the Mid-Columbia and spawned the biggest push in years for a new reservoir in the Yakima Basin. The state's farmers were expected to lose between $270 million and $400 million, and salmon runs took a blow.

No. 3. Ninety-three years of history went up in flames May 9 when an arson fire at the Moore Mansion caused an estimated $1 million in damage and apparently left the historic landmark a total loss. It would be years before its miraculous restoration.

No. 4. The Tri-City economy kept adding new jobs even as a recession hit just about everywhere else. The Tri-Cities posted record employment levels month after month as the Department of Energy ramped up to build a $4 billion project to glassify Hanford's radioactive tank wastes. New Walmart stores in Richland and Kennewick and a slew of new retail outlets, including the much coveted Olive Garden restaurant, also added payrolls.

No. 5. The shock waves born of Western energy markets turned upside-down reached Tri-City consumers when the Benton and Franklin county public utility districts were forced to raise rates by about 40 percent. Richland's electric utility and the Benton Rural Electric Association also were facing possible rate hikes.

No. 6. Nicolas Solorio Vasquez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing Washington State Patrol trooper James Saunders on Oct. 7, 1999.

No. 7. Time appeared to run out for Hanford's Fast Flux Test Facility as the Bush administration agreed the reactor should be permanently shut down. DOE officials found a financial plan to commercialize the reactor to be too risky.

No. 8. The Department of Labor started writing checks for $150,000 to compensate nuclear workers who might have sacrificed their health to help win World War II and the Cold War because they were exposed to radioactive or chemical contamination.

No. 9. The ancient Kennewick Man bones that were discovered along the Columbia River in 1996 came back into the news. Lawyers for scientists, the Department of the Interior and American Indian tribes finally got to argue the fate of the bones in federal district court in Portland, though a decision allowing scientists to study the 9,000-year-old bones didn't come until later.

No. 10. The Bush administration tried to slash money for Hanford cleanup, with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham trying to cut $400 million in funding needed to build the vitrification plant planned to convert the site's highly radioactive tank wastes into glass. In the end, Congress overruled the administration.

Not among the top stories of the year, but still notable, were the deaths of three well-known Tri-Citians: Pasco leader Ed Hendler, beloved physician Al Corrado and clergyman Marvin Cain.