LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — 20 years ago on Sept. 11, an empty McCarran International Airport shut down for the first time ever and the Las Vegas Strip went through some unexpected closures.
“There’s really no words to describe walking through an empty airport.”
McCarran Airport director Rosemary Vassiliadis still has vivid memories of when the 9/11 attacks caused one of the busiest airports in the country to shut down for three days.
Reports at the time described how "reality begins to sink in, and the airport becomes a ghost town.”
A ghost town Vassiliadis had never experienced. She says quick decisions had to be made as the news was coming in about how bad the attacks were.
“These terrorists used aviation as a weapon," she said. "I don't ever want to know how to think that way."
Thousands of stranded passengers were stuck in Vegas.
“Been stuck here since one o’clock. Nobody knows nothing,” a traveler told 13 Action News back in 2001.
Vassiliadis and her staff began coordinating with local hotels and casinos to get passengers inside as many couldn’t reach family back east.
“Landlines down, cellphones overloaded," she recalled.
On the Las Vegas Strip, the Stratosphere tower was closed along with the Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel-casino.
Anthony Curtis of Las Vegas Advisor says there was shock among visitors.
“Everybody forgot about what they were doing. They were no longer on vacation. Everyone was searching for information,” he said.
Curtis says hotels in and around the Strip accommodated those stranded visitors, but some tried other ways to get back home.
“I remember that all the rental cars were sold out and I remember taxi drivers talking about fares through LA [Los Angeles, Califorina]. 600 bucks to LA,’ he said.
Vassiliadis says McCarran was one of the first airports to reopen after rapidly deploying new security measures and sweeping the terminals for any threats.
“They had to feel safe here. And in our book, our employees had to feel safe. Just like we did with COVID,” she said.