PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 14, 2012

Bomb threats evacuate Texas, N. Dakota campuses


The Associated Press

AUSTIN — Thousands of people streamed off university campuses in Texas and North Dakota on Friday after phoned-in bomb threats prompted evacuations and officials warned students and faculty to get away as quickly as possible. No bombs were found on either campus by early afternoon and it was not clear whether the threats were related.

The University of Texas received a call about 8:35 a.m. from a man claiming to be with al-Qaida who said he had placed bombs all over the 50,000-student Austin campus, according to University of Texas spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon. He claimed the bombs would go off in 90 minutes and all buildings were evacuated at 9:50 a.m. as a precaution, Weldon said.

The deadline passed without incident, and the university later issued advisories saying all buildings has been cleared and were reopening by noon. Classes were canceled for the remainder of Friday, but other university activities were to resume by 5 p.m.

“We are extremely confident that the campus is safe,” UT President William Powers said at an early afternoon news conference.

North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani said 20,000 people also were evacuated from his school’s main and downtown campuses in Fargo after the school received its bomb threat Friday morning. Officials did not immediately release details about the North Dakota threat and its evacuation remained in place by early afternoon.

In Texas, sirens wailed on campus and cellphones pinged with text messages when the initial alert when out. Students described more confusion than panic as they exited the sprawling campus in what one described as an “orderly but tense” manner. Students said they were directed off campus by university staff.

“One of them said to me ‘get off this campus as soon as possible,”’ said Elizabeth Gerberich, an 18-year-old freshman from New Jersey.

Police blocked off roads heading into campus as lines of cars sat in gridlock trying to get out.

At the football stadium, executive senior associate athletics director Ed Goble said he was discussing logistics with authorities because the Longhorns needed to get ready to leave for a Saturday football game at the University of Mississippi. Shortly after 11 a.m., while the rest of campus remained almost entirely deserted, Goble said police had given football players permission to go into the athletic complex to pack for the game.

Ashley Moran, a freshman from Houston, said she was waiting to get into class when word quickly began spreading among students to leave immediately.

“It makes me really nervous I just know we’re supposed to get out,” she said.

With rain falling, students stood under awnings and overhangs and inundated nearby off-campus restaurants and coffee shops as they waited to find out when classes would resume.

Abby Johnston, a production and special editions coordinator for Texas Student Media, said she received the first text message from the university less than an hour after she arrived at work and started thinking about what she would publish in the next day’s paper. Then sirens started blaring.

“We do the siren test once a month and so at first people thought maybe it was just a test, and then we started to tell everybody, ‘No actually we have to get out of here pretty immediately,”’ said Johnston, 22. “There was definitely a little bit of nervous tension.”

Tania Lara, a graduate student at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said she was at work inside a central campus academic building when she got a text message to get as far away was possible.

“It was calm but nobody knew what was going on,” she said, describing a crush of students heading for the exits. “No one was yelling ‘get out of here’ or anything like that.”