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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 22:10 GMT
Sitting ducks on NY underground?
Interior of subway carriage
Many people still avoid taking the subway
Megan Lane

As New York wakes up to news of the city's first confirmed case of inhalation anthrax - and warnings of a new terror attack - few commuters are comfortable going underground to catch the subway.

The New York subway is famously dirty, noisy and initially disquieting, although it is a great deal safer than it used to be.

Whereas once commuters and tourists might have worried about muggers or stray nutters running amok, those fears have now turned to possible terror attacks.

New York subway entrance
Broad St station, with NY Stock exchange in the background
The concern is that should someone spray some lethal concoction into the air, thousands could be at risk, particularly when the trains are packed during rush hour.

Already, hoaxers around the US have played upon such fears by spraying perfume or dropping liquids that later turn out to be harmless.

"I don't take the subway anymore - I'd hate to be trapped down there if something happened," says Michael, a trader at the New York Stock Exchange.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has warned that new terror attacks are planned against the US in the next week, but has offered no specifics as to what form the threat may take.

The alert came on the same day that officials announced New York had its first confirmed case of inhalation anthrax, the most serious form of the disease.

'Russian roulette'

Like many straphangers making the daily journey into Manhattan, Michael says his usual routine has been thrown into disarray in the wake of the terror attacks.


I now take the ferry - it takes almost a half hour longer each way, but I don't want to be underground anymore

Michael, subway commuter

Although the lines running through lower Manhattan resumed normal service on Monday, the three stations closest to the collapsed twin towers remain off-limits.

"I used to take the Path Train from Jersey City to the World Trade Center station, but that no longer exists. I now take the ferry - it takes almost a half hour longer each way, but I don't want to be underground anymore."

The already tight security in New York is about to be stepped up yet again from Tuesday, with Governor George Pataki arming the 1,500 National Guards posted in and around the city.

Previously, only those at airports and nuclear plants were armed.

"I expect another attack," Michael says. "Coming in here every day is like playing Russian roulette."

Couple outside subway station
Joe and Dalene Woodward: "Concerned"
Another commuter, Natasha, looks somewhat pensive as she emerges from the Broad St station outside the stock exchange, just a few short blocks from Ground Zero.

"This is the first time I've been down this far since the attacks. Until today, I've been taking the bus or going just a few stops on the subway."

Joe and Dalene Woodward, on holiday from Denver, Colorado, say they had few qualms about boarding the subway.

"We were a bit concerned but you can't let that rule your life. We took it right from the airport to our hotel - where else but in New York can you do that?" Joe says.

Dust and decay

For those working in the financial district, there are daily reminders of just what terror attackers can do.

Not only do many work within sight of the devastated site, the sounds of the recovery work echo through the streets.

And when the wind blows in from the west, it carries with it the acrid smell of destruction. Gas masks are not an uncommon sight.

"As soon as you get off the train, you can tell what sort of day it is. If it's hot, it stinks down there," lawyer Veronica Hummel says.

Veronica Hummel
Veronica Hummel: The subway still smells of the burning twin towers
Her trip in from Westchester - which involves a train to Grand Central Station and a subway into the financial district - has been steadily getting busier as stations reopen and more businesses reopen their doors.

"It is picking up - every day seems to get a little busier. On Monday it was crowded again."

She, like many other New Yorkers, says the threat of bio-chemical attack has crystallised her unease about taking the subway.

"I'm a little nervous that some lone fanatic inspired by the terrorists may strike on the subway. I've always had vague concerns, but nothing like now."

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