Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Summerville resident A’delle Chellis, Dorchester Drug and Alcohol Commission’s Associate Director, was across the street from the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
The hotel she stayed at is visible in some of the video footage from that day.
Chellis was about to leave for Summerville after spending four days at a conference at the hotel, which is directly across the interstate from the Pentagon.
Chellis says there were about 1,500 people at the conference, many from New York. There were also 22 people from South Carolina.
At first nobody knew what was going on, she said. Chellis had packed her bags and was downstairs eating breakfast, oblivious to anything that had gone wrong.
During the class one of the instructors came in and whispered something had happened and Chellis could see people buzzing around. She still didn’t know what was going on.
“After the second plane hit, a girl came in the class and was hysterical because the tower had been bombed or something like that,” Chellis says.
A group of people attending the conference were on the top floor of the hotel when the plane that hit the Pentagon flew by.
“The were like, what was that? It wasn’t a bird . . . it was way too big. Then they felt the impact when it hit the Pentagon.”
After the plane hit the Pentagon all conference attendees were put in the big meeting room where the conferences were held, Chellis says. Nobody was allowed to leave.
Everyone was stuck in the room from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
“There were people frantic because they had loved ones in the towers, families, friends. There was no cell phone service, no phones to use.
“At the same time they were evacuating people from the Pentagon into a ballroom in our hotel.
“They thought other planes were heading to D.C. We didn’t know if it was another one for the White House or Pentagon. Nobody knew what was going on that point.”
When authorities let the group outside to get fresh air everyone was looking at what was going on at the Pentagon, Chellis says.
“The smell was a horrible distinctive odor. Smoke was still rising, they were still getting people out, getting them over to the hotel.”
Chellis told her husband, James Chellis, that he couldn’t come from Summerville to pick her up – which he’d offered to do – because she was in an area with lots of security guards and they weren’t letting anybody near the hotel.
She began speaking to bus drivers to find out if any of them could take her and the 22 others back to South Carolina. One driver, from North Charleston, said he was driving people from the Pentagon to a secure place in Virginia.
“He said if you can, get outta here. You don’t know what was on the plane, chemicals, whatever.
“The whole thing was so surreal, being there, feeling what’s going on.”
Finally around 4:30 p.m., after being assertive but nice, she was able to find a bus that could take her and the other South Carolinians to Interstate-95 and drop them off, Chellis says. They finally got home around 3 a.m.
She later talked to some people who weren’t able to leave the capitol for more than 10 days because there was no plane or train service.
“Six months later I was in New York with people who had gone through 9/11 there, policemen and fireman. They still had the ashes in the street. We went to Ground Zero. It was another surreal kind of thing, thinking we were part of this in D.C.”