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Residents not panicking in face of terror warnings

Friday, February 14, 2003

America's terror alert has some people buying wood stoves, drums to collect rainwater, duct tape and plastic sheeting -- just in case.

At Lehman's Hardware and Appliances, Kidron, Ohio, which specializes in non-electric household products and serves a large Amish community, sales are up among the non-Amish, much as they were during the Y2K scare and again after Sept. 11.

"Whenever something like this happens, we get a lot of phone calls," said Glenda Lehman Ervin, whose father opened the store in 1955. "We get a lot of questions, like, 'Do you have a wood stove that will cook and heat my house?' or, 'How hard is it to dig a well?"'

On Friday, the government raised the nation's terror alert from yellow to orange, the second-highest level, because of intelligence information indicating that al-Qaida was planning attacks on the United States.

Federal officials have recommended that Americans take basic disaster-preparation steps such as maintaining a three-day stockpile of food and water. They also recommend obtaining duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal a house in a chemical or biological attack.

So far, apparently, the terror alert has not caused a buying spree in Brazil, Ind.

The Times spoke with management at Sam's Hardware and Timberland Hardware and an employee at Pell's Shopping Center.

A Pell's employee, who asked not to be identified, said one woman bought duct tape and plastic sheeting on Wednesday, but no one else has specifically mentioned concerns over America's heightened state of alert. The Pell's employee expects others to buy those items, though.

"I think people are a little smarter than that in Brazil," said Sam's Hardware owner Sam Crawn, when asked if his customers seemed concerned about the terrorism threat. "What about filtration (of chemicals and radiation) through walls? Duct tape and plastic might stifle (chemicals and radiation) somewhat, but they aren't going to stop it."

Neither Crawn nor Timberland Assistant Manager Mike Christy have experienced larger than normal sales of duct tape or plastic.

"I think it's like the old 'duck and cover' in the '50s," Crawn said. "You may duck and not see the flash" but the radiation will get you, anyway.

Others agree. Around the country, many Americans say they do not think there is much they can do to defend themselves from terrorism.

Some, however, are taking steps to prepare themselves.

Paul and Melissa Jackson of Tulsa, Okla., bought two 1,000-square-foot rolls of plastic sheeting and 11 rolls of duct tape Tuesday at Home Depot.

The couple said they have also agreed to rendezvous with about 30 family members at their vacation house near Grand Lake northeast of Tulsa if there is an attack. Their families have also secured satellite phones in case communications are disrupted by terrorists.

"These people are crazy," said Melissa Jackson, 29. "You don't know what they're going to do. We don't think anything's going to happen, but it's better to be safe than sorry."

Paul Jackson, 34, said he had spent less than $100 on supplies, "so it's worth the risk if nothing happens."

Jim Ash, 50, of Overland Park, Kan., stopped by a Home Depot to buy a generator cord that he said he would have needed even if the terror alert level had not been raised.

"I don't think we really have that big of a risk around here, but it just doesn't hurt to be prepared," Ash said. "We do make sure that we have enough food on hand, like you would for a storm."

In Seattle, Federal Army & Navy Surplus has seen more sales in the past week of gas masks, which cost $20 to $111, said Jon Anderson. Other popular items have been first-aid kits, emergency supplies for cars, and military-surplus meals.

Lehman's, about 50 miles south of Cleveland, said calls picked up when the terror alert was raised. "Those big 50-gallon drums for rainwater -- we've gotten two calls for them today. I haven't heard that in a year and a half," Ervin said Tuesday.

The store is also stocking up on jumbo jugs of lamp oil.

JoAnn Ekey, 55, drove about 30 miles from her home in Ashland to Lehman's to browse, not to prepare for a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, she said she is thinking about getting ready for an emergency.

"The water supply would be my major concern," Ekey said. "I'll probably buy some bottled water and make sure I have enough canned food around." She also planned to buy batteries for flashlights and radios.

Others are more skeptical.

Jenry Lizardo, 37, of Jersey City, N.J., who was shopping at Borinquen Home Improvement, said he had not taken any precautions. "I don't believe if they do any major violence or major attack that's going to do anything," he said.

Fred Ottensmeyer, an employee at Sullivan Hardware in Indianapolis, leaned up against a stack of boxed paint cans and said he is not sure precautions would make a difference. "My wife said it was like getting under a table in case of a nuclear attack," he said.

Byron Yeager, a 47-year-old Indianapolis maintenance worker with a tattoo of a burning cross on his hand, said outside a Lowe's hardware store: "There's a lot more things to be scared of in the city of Indianapolis than terrorists. If you walk around the corner and somebody clubs you over the head, duct tape's not going to protect you."

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