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US Attacks Strand Planes, Passengers in Canada

Since Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the United States, hundreds of diverted planes and thousands of passengers have been stranded in Canada. The resulting chaos filled hotel rooms and airports across the country.

Two hundred forty-seven planes, carrying over 30,000 passengers were diverted to Canadian airports on Tuesday. In Gander, Newfoundland, there were more stranded passengers than residents.

The sudden arrival of the European and Asian flights, all destined for the United States, filled up hotels and strained community centers. Many residents in areas surrounding the airports welcomed the unexpected travelers into their homes and some hotels converted ballrooms into makeshift dormitories.

Across the country, thousands of Canadians lined up outside clinics, waiting to donate blood that may be needed by victims of the attacks in the United States. All financial markets remained closed.

In Ottawa, Transport Minister David Collenette opened Canadian airspace to restricted travel. Canadian air carriers are permitted to fly only between Canadian cities. All of the 247 stranded aircraft can leave, pending approval by U.S. authorities. All other air travel remains prohibited.

Here in Vancouver, 110 planes sat on the tarmac, including 34 diverted aircraft. Even with Canadian airspace partially reopened, it will take days for all the passengers to be processed.

As the flights resume, extensive security procedures are being implemented.

Speaking from Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien says that Canadians will join with European countries in a day of mourning. He says the attack deserves a response, but Americans and Canadians must be patient as the investigation continues. "We don't know," he said. "We're speculating at this time. The Americans themselves, they say we have to be patient. I told Canadians yesterday, and I thank Canadians because they were patient and calm. We have to be calm, but something will happen eventually."

Mr. Chretien has been forced to confer by telephone with cabinet ministers who are out of the capital, because many cannot reach Ottawa due to the flight restrictions.

Land crossings between Canada and the United States remain open, although with dramatically increased security. The shared boundary between the two countries is the largest undefended border in the world.

There are media reports that suspected terrorists may have entered the United States through Canada. It would not be the first time. In December 1999, American authorities in Washington State arrested Ahmed Ressam, who was driving off a ferryboat that originated in the Canadian city, Victoria. He was found to be carrying 60 kilograms of explosives in the trunk of his vehicle and was convicted of terrorism in April. Ressam later testified that he was planning to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, New Year's Eve.