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I had only meant to be gone for a week. The world sand sculpting championships in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia were a lot of fun. All of SPI's representatives - Amazin' Walter, Steve "Dunehead" Mutter, and myself - were heading home with medals, and as always we had a great time with the other sand sculptors in this lovely little town. But we were scheduled to fly home on Sept. 11 -- the day that everything changed.

There was an early morning knock on the door. It was Ian, owner of the Spa Motel, telling us that New York and Washington were in flames and that we weren't going anywhere. Ian is a funny guy and I thought he was making a not-so-funny joke until I turned on the TV -- just in time to watch the second plane plow into the World Trade Center.

We spent the next six days as guests of Harrison. They covered our rooms and fed us (we had to pay for our own beer) and we passed the time listlessly: watching CNN; carving on a new "thank you, Harrison" sculpture; calling the airlines for the latest itinerary (mine changed 4 times in as many days) and slurping down Canadian beer. While we were sickened by the numbers of dead and missing -- all in all, we could have been stranded in a much less comfortable spot...

Then came the second knock on the door. This time it was Amazin'. he had just gotten off the phone with Laurie Gaudi and come to tell me that the Queen Isabella Causeway was down, with an indeterminate number of cars in the water and multiple fatalities. It had happened at bar closing time on a Friday night, and I was all too certain that I would know at least some of the victims.

Walter is a funny guy, too, but this time I was pretty sure that he was not making a joke. The rest of that day is a blur -- how could two such utterly inconceivable events happen within days of each other? There was no bridge-related news on the TV and precious little from the island with phone lines down and cell service spotty. The urge to get home as quickly as possible grew even stronger and I finally stopped calling the airline altogether and just got myself to Seattle -- determined to sit there and bother someone until they put me on a plane.

About 24 hours after leaving Harrison we were on the ferry to the Island and counting ourselves lucky to be doing so. I had (and still have) lots of work to catch up on, but my first priority was to help disseminate the information I had so craved while I was in Canada to other people around the country. My e-mail box was overflowing with urgent messages from absentee property owners, former residents and frequent visitors -- all left in the dark and wondering who was lost, who was missing, and how residents were faring.

After gathering as much information as I could, I posted a special page at SPIonline.com that I have been updating several times a day in an effort to bring anyone who was interested the latest information on ferries, restoration of services and the status of bridge repairs and business closings. The page has been visited by nearly 1000 people a day and the outpouring of concern and support from all over a nation already wracked with grief by the terrorist attacks in the east has been truly phenomenal. (I have posted some of the responses at the above site in the hopes that they may help improve morale for the area locals.) I would invite area residents to stop by the site as well and forward any updates on business re-openings, etc. they would like posted.

Our message to the world is that South Padre Island is more beautiful and peaceful than ever and that visitors willing to leave their cars behind are welcomed to come share it with us. Sand Castle Days '01 will go on as scheduled (Oct. 18-20 at Boomerang Billy's Beach) and is a darn good reason for everyone to come back.

We are going to make it through these hard time and be stronger for it... of this I am very sure.

There are five (5) ways to submit your questions/comments for future Ask Sandy columns: In person; by phone (761-6222) or fax (761-8930); the US Postal System (box 2694,spi,78597) and E-mail: (sandyfeet@unlitter.com). Visit my web-site (http://spionline.com/) for tips on sandcastling, contest info, recent Ask Sandy columns, and my reviews of local businesses.

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