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World Travelers on Their Way After Harrowing Delay

Airport: Some at the international terminal are still rattled over the previous day's violence, and some are upset at their treatment amid the confusion.


Christine Ramirez had been en route from her Central California home to Mexico since Wednesday.

By Friday morning she was sleep-deprived, hungry and no further than a ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

She had gotten off her bus from Madera--northwest of Fresno--in the wee hours of Thursday morning and was waiting at LAX for her 2 p.m. flight when she heard gunshots and people screaming. She ducked behind some chairs.

"I wanted to go home," said the 20-year-old wife and mother.

The airline, she says, wouldn't pay for a hotel room Thursday night, and she didn't have money for one.

"They said I could freshen up in the bathroom. Have you ever tried freshening up in an airport bathroom?" she asked, sunburned from her hours-long wait outside Thursday when the international terminal was evacuated after shots were fired at the El Al Israel Airlines counter.

Friday morning, legions of stranded passengers, some still rattled by what they had heard or seen in the flash of violence that left three people dead on the Fourth of July, trudged back to the international terminal to finish their interrupted journeys.

Ramirez was one of them. She spent the night shivering on a hard airport bench under a thin blanket. Fellow travelers shared snacks. Now she was on her way, again, to Durango, Mexico, to retrieve her year-old daughter, who has been visiting her grandparents for two months.

"I don't want to mess with traveling anymore," Ramirez said. "I wouldn't even be trying to get on a plane if I didn't have to get my daughter. I told my husband [that] next time I go see my in-laws, I'm going by bus."

The day after the shootings passengers, lined up again. They made more cell phone calls. And they snapped photos of each other in front of the bullet-riddled El Al counter. "We're taking pictures because this is just part of our odyssey," said Luz Marina who, along with husband Rodrigo Garcia, was in a group traveling to a Tokyo conference.

Rodrigo and Marina are no strangers to outbreaks of violence--they're from Medellin, Colombia. "This doesn't scare us," said Rodrigo. "If this had happened in Colombia, this would have been resolved in a matter of hours."

But it took a day for the Los Angeles airport to recover and return to a full schedule. Passenger volume was expected to be normal for the day after the Fourth, with about 150,000 travelers passing through, according to LAX spokesman Paul A. Haney. About 40,000 of those were international passengers. There were 1,700 arriving and departing flights scheduled Friday, 252 of them international.

Bouquets were appearing near the counter for El Al, which even before the attack had no flights scheduled for Friday or Saturday. The airline does not fly on Friday from LAX because the jetliners would not arrive in Tel Aviv before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, which extends from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, according to an El Al employee.

But the other signs of Thursday's shootings were disappearing by early afternoon--visible bullet holes in the counter and the back wall were covered over. The punctured El Al sign was removed. Just the plexiglass covering the security notices printed on the counter for passengers to read showed the jagged cracks of a bullet's path.

An employee of another airline was overheard quizzing an airport official about the El Al clerk who was killed. "Was it the really pretty girl with the black hair?" asked the employee.

"Yes," the airport official answered soberly.

Passengers coped with a day of chaos. Alfredo Grados had flown from Sydney, Australia, to LAX to connect with a flight to Mexico. After the turmoil of Thursday, he and his traveling companion, Angela Bourne, got booked on an 8 o'clock flight that evening. But when he left the terminal to get food, security refused to let him back in to board his plane.

"They were overpowering--yelling at old ladies," said Grados, 30. "They made a bad situation into a worse one."

Fliers checking in Thursday for flights on Singapore Airlines, whose counter is nearly opposite El Al's, had front-row seats for the harrowing events.

Japanese free-lance photographer Hisato Takarada, 54, returning home after a group tour of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, was snapping pictures in the terminal Thursday when he heard shots behind him. He dived to the floor, still wildly clicking his camera, not sure what he was photographing, until a police officer told him to stop taking pictures.

"It looked like a TV show," Takarada said. On Friday, he was scheduled to take another flight after spending the night in a hotel room paid for by the tour company.

The day after seemed to start off strangely quiet in the eyes of some who work at the airport. "It feels like time is not moving; there's no one here," said Joey Sanchez, an employee at the Sunglass Hut in the international terminal.

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