The Town That Welcomed 7000 People After 9/11 - Hope 103.2

The Town That Welcomed 7000 People After 9/11

A small town in Newfoundland received 38 flights that in a matter of hours doubled the population of Gander.

By Georgia FreeThursday 13 Oct 2022Hope DriveCultureReading Time: 3 minutes

It’s been 21 years since September 11, 2001 – a day that stopped the entire world. But perhaps a lesser-known story is what happened in the hours directly after the attacks. The musical Come from Away tells the story of the small town of Gander, Canada – and the role they played in the hours after the attacks.

Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, received 38 flights, totalling 6600 people in a matter of hours – which more than doubled the population of the small town. So how does a town feed, clothe and house thousands with no preparation? Oz Fudge, a retired constable from Gander, believed it was in the very fabric of the town.

Oz Fudge (left) and Brian Mosher (teacher from Gander)

Source: Supplied / Oz Fudge (left) and Brian Mosher (teacher from Gander)

The big arrival

Almost immediately after the attacks, the American airspace was closed, and planes already in the air, had to be diverted into Canada. Historically, Gander International Airport has one of the largest gas stations and some of the longest runways in the world. Planes undergoing long haul flights regularly refuel at Gander, so the town is no stranger to aviation. But, nothing could prepare Gander for this.

“When I got [to the airport], there were about 1000 cars in traffic. And then, the planes started coming in,” Oz told Hope Drive.

“They’re all big white bodied jets… and I started calculating how many people were [on those planes].

“But, a sense of calm came over me… because I knew that the people of the town were going to take care of those passengers.”

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A community effort

Immediately, the citizens of Gander sprang into action. Schools, community halls, churches, homes, and surrounding towns were used to house the thousands of arrivals, who collectively represented 92 countries. Luckily, some townspeople had experience in crisis management to help things run smoothly.

“Some of the members of our Red Cross had gone to disaster areas around the world, so they had a bit of an idea of what to do,” Oz said.

“They were the ones that set up at the airport, process the passengers when they came off, and pick a place for them to stay.

“Then, the Salvation Army were the ones that were feeding people.”

Australian cast of Come From Away musical

Source: Supplied / Photo by Jeff Busby

A town unchanged

Although Come from Away has increased the publicity and tourists within the town, Oz says Gander hasn’t changed dramatically.

“We didn’t go around beating our chests, saying how great we were,” he said.

“We have a saying ‘get her done’.

“During that time, we had all these people to clothe, house, to give that hug to.

“And after it was all over, we just went on about our normal lives. We didn’t think anything more of it.”

Cast of Come From Away musical

Source: Supplied / Kat Harrison, Manon Gunderson Briggs, Zoe Gertz, Natalie O’Donnell, Emma Powell, Sarah Nairne, photo by Jeff Busby

A feel good musical

Come from Away, returning to Sydney for a final season from November 5, is a celebration of the incredible town of Gander and a reminder of the very best of humanity – which, Oz says, is something is needed in the current climate.

“You just need some place where you can sit, have a laugh, have a cry and feel really good when it’s over,” Oz said.

“I think this play does it all.”

Listen to Oz’s full interview in the player above.

Come from Away returns to Sydney from November 5.