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Pequot ferry service joins rescue

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* Editor's Note: this article was written with the help of Associated Press (AP)

GLEN COVE, Long Island ? As workers in lower Manhattan clamored to flee the scene of Tuesday's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the two high-speed ferry boats of Mashantucket Pequot-owned Fox Navigation went into service for emergency evacuation.

The attack came as the ferry service finished its last morning run from Long Island's north shore.

Capt. John Tragert's Tatobam was tied up at the pier when the first tower was hit. A concussion shook the boat and debris rained down on the vessel. The crew quickly got under way and made it as far as the Battery in the Hudson when the second jet struck.

'We had an absolute unobstructed view. It was horrible,' Tragert said. 'We just watched the buildings come down. There was a lot of confusion. The initial response was to close the harbor and stay put. The ship scrambled from commuter service to rescue mode in a heartbeat. Tragert and his 11-man crew watched in horror from the Hudson River as people leaped from the towers.

They also saw panicked people run as far as they could and then jump from piers into the water. That's when a police boat pulled up next to the Tatobam. 'They were asking for lifejackets for people in the water, Tragert said Wednesday.

Emergency personnel on land eventually began rounding up people on Pier 11 for evacuation. Tragert said he will never forget the scene as he maneuvered his 150-foot, high-speed ferry alongside the pier, less than a mile from the destruction of the twin towers, and offered the only thing he could, escape.

'There was a lot of people covered in dust and dirt with a look of relief that they were just getting out of there.'

The director of tribal ferry operations Nilda Bracero, explained, 'We had just dropped off our last group of passengers at Pier 11. We were sending our boats to New Jersey to dock for the day when we got an order from the Department of Transportation to evacuate passengers from Pier 11 to Long Island.'

The two boats made a total of four round trips each to Glen Cove, taking out about 285 passengers on each run and bringing back doctors and emergency personnel. Only one of the passengers was seriously injured, but with the large number of medical help on the scene, she was quickly treated Bracero said.

Fox Navigation and the city of Glen Cove provided transportation in Long Island to take the evacuees home and by night's end the Tatobam and sister ship Sassacus had evacuated about 1,000 people back to Long Island. They also helped deliver firefighters, police and doctors from Long Island. The boats can reach speeds of 50 mph.

On the last run to Manhattan, Bracero said the boat carried doctors and nurses bound for St. Vincent's Hospital near the disaster area, the initial center for treating survivors. But the hospital had such a surplus of medical help that Bracero said, 'we eventually were asked to go back.'

Bracero said the fleet stood by in Glen Cove on emergency alert on Wednesday though the port was closed. It would resume regular service when the financial markets reopened.

Fox Navigation began service from Long Island to lower Manhattan this May, the only ferry plying that route. Its Manhattan destination, Pier 11, lies just south of the historic South Street Seaport and directly across the island from the World Trade Center, a 15-minute walk away.

The service makes three runs each morning and evening using two high-speed catamaran ferries, the Sassacus and the Tatobam. 'Sassacus' meaning 'He is fierce' in the Pequot language, is named for chief sachem of the tribe from 1634 to 1637. The boats have a top cruising speed of 50 knots.

Fox Navigation continues the sea-faring tradition of the southeastern Connecticut tribe. Its chairman Richard Hayward is the former chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation responsible for opening the extremely profitable Foxwoods Casino Resort. He is also a former worker in New London's shipbuilding industry.