By Liam Martin

BOSTON (CBS) — On September 11th, 2001, when US airspace closed, dozens of planes already in the air were forced to find a new place to land. The story of 38 planes, carrying 7,000 people, touching down in Gander, Newfoundland inspired the musical “Come From Away.”

The people of the town rallied around the “plane people,” opening their hearts and homes to the frightened strangers.

Mayor at the time, Claude Elliott, told WBZ-TV the community realized the people were going to need more than just food and clothing. “They were also going to need someone to show a little bit of love and compassion,” he said.

“Come From Away” highlights what occurred over the five days the passengers spent in Gander and the relationships they built with the residents.

Former Gander Mayor Claude Elliott (WBZ-TV)

Actor Kevin Carolan plays Mayor Claude in the show. “The story is amazing because it demonstrates grace under pressure,” Carolan said. “His levelheadedness and charm and like I said, grace, just really kind of carries the day for me.”

Carolan said much of that grace came from the mayor, but Elliott is quick to give credit to his community, giving complete strangers their cars and taking them into their homes for showers and meals. “There no task too big that you can’t do.”

Elliott said the hardest part was saying goodbye. “On the first day, we had 7,000 strangers. On the third day, we had 7,000 friends. And on the fifth day, we lost 7,000 family members.”

He said there is a message that can be learned from the experience: “For five days, there were people from 95 countries, slept together, ate together, cried together and laughed together. From 95 countries, they were like one big family. So it can be done.”

Performances of “Come From Away” run at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston through November 17th.

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