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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 13:42 GMT
Shopping against terror
Drug store in Mexico
Americans have been crossing into Mexico to buy Cipro
Megan Lane
Americans are assembling survival kits with a difference. Added to the bottled water and sticking plaster might be a back-up mobile phone, a low-altitude parachute - even a canary.

Retail therapy has never been so therapeutic. First there was a run on gas masks after the attack on the World Trade Center sent noxious fumes and choking dust in the air.

Then came the anthrax attacks, spurring many Americans to go needlessly in search of the antibiotic, Cipro.

Parachutist
The rush is on for parachutes
Now, with the risk of further terror attacks against the United States, more creative solutions are being sought by those in need of reassurance.

A Florida aquarium maker has fitted fish tanks with rubber gloves in the side to open suspicious mail. A North Carolina water treatment company has developed a home anthrax-testing kit.

And a Michigan company has started selling parachutes to people who live and work in high-rise buildings.

John Rivers, of Executive Chutes Corporation, developed an escape parachute eight months ago in consultation with fire-fighters, aeronautical engineers and skydivers. He shelved the idea last July, thinking no-one would buy it... until two planes flew into the WTC, trapping thousands on the upper floors.

Overseas orders

The company now gets about 100 calls a day, and has received orders from big firms wanting to secure chutes for their employees.

Man wearing anti-pollution mask
Anti-pollution masks were popular immediately after the WTC disaster
"These firms are in California, Chicago, some in New York. But about half of the inquiries have come from overseas - we've had calls from Europe, Malaysia and Japan."

Mr Rivers stresses that those caught in a burning building should only use a parachute as a last resort: "Take the stairs; wait for rescue by emergency crews; follow the emergency plan in place if at all possible."

Although the chute cannot be steered, it is sturdy enough to withstand brushing up against a building on the way down and descends at about 10 miles an hours - slower than a skydiver.

"Because you may have been almost overcome by smoke and fumes, you may break a leg or twist an ankle when you land."


It is ludicrous to think that a canary dying will give you time to get away

Pierre Brooks

Sales of mobiles phones and spare batteries are booming as people have seen the value of being able to contact loved ones in times of crisis. Before 11 September, market researchers expected to see 128 million mobile phone users in the US by the end of the year - they have since added another two million to that total. Many of those resisting the mobile revolution have finally given in, while others have bought second or third phones for family members.

There is also a surge in demand for canaries, although this has more to do with self preservation than a love of feathery pets per se. Just as coalminers once used canaries to warn of poisonous fumes, some shoppers hope the wee songbirds will provide early warning of a gas attack.

Pet shopping

Pierre Brooks, of pet shop 33rd and Bird, in Manhattan, says demand for canaries has doubled since 11 September. But he will only sell to those who genuinely want a feathered friend - those seeking a gas-warning tool are turned away.

Pet shop owner
Pierre Brooks: "If there's a gas attack, we'll all be dead"
"If I sold to everyone who wanted one, I'd be selling 80 a month. Not only is it against my ethics, it is ludicrous and silly to think that a canary dying will give you time to get away. If there's a gas attack, we'll all be dead."

Those whose pets do die may end up with egg on their face if they try to flee. Not every gas that kills canaries is harmful to humans - car exhaust fumes and overheated Teflon pans can prove deadly to small birds.

Another group of canary-buyers spurred into action by recent events is, however, welcome in Mr Brook's shops.

"We are also seeing people who want to bring some harmony into their homes, what with all the bad things going on outside. Many of them are senior citizens who live alone. They want to hear some melody, see some colour. The birds are adding something to their lives - I'm happy about that."


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08 Nov 01 | Americas
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