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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 21:56 GMT
Terror alert grips Washington
Suburban stores were selling out of emergency supplies

There were two dozen people gathered in the cold in front of Strosniders Hardware Store in Bethesda, Maryland by the time it opened.

And by 1030, the shop had run out of duct tape and plastic sheeting, the two essential emergency supplies the government had recommended that people stockpile in order to protect themselves against a terrorist attack.

Ashley Johnston
I would rather be safe than sorry

Ashley Johnston
"We can't put it out fast enough," said store manager Craig Smith told BBC News Online.

He said they had already had four truckloads of fresh supplies arrive in the last 24 hours.

After a week of warnings by the government about the increased threat of a chemical, biological, or radiological attack, the people of Washington wanted to take no chances with their families.

And the sight of anti-aircraft missile batteries being placed next to the Washington monument no doubt added to the sense of fear.


Ashley Johnston had come to the shop to stock up on batteries, a radio, and a torch as well as duct tape and sheets.

"I would rather be safe than sorry," she said.

Kim Sienkiewicz
I am very nervous about a terrorist attack

Kim Sienkiewicz
Kim Sienkiewicz said that she had become worried after hearing on the news about the warnings, and the new taped threats from Osama Bin Laden.

"I am very nervous about the possibility of a terrorist attack," she said.

Richelle Fatheree said that she had been "swept up in the mania" despite feeling fatalistic about the possibility of an attack.

Disaster supply kit
Plastic sheeting
Duct tape
Spare batteries
3-day drinking water supply
non-perishable foods
sanitation supplies including bleach, soap
First aid kit
$2000 in cash
source: Department of Homeland Security
By mid-morning, tempers were becoming slightly frayed in the store, as several customers asked the manager whether they could leave their names to be notified when future supplies of sheeting arrived - only to be refused by Mr Smith.

"Yesterday the situation was bordering out of control," he said. "People were getting pretty excited."

Newspaper lists

The panic buying did not start until Monday evening, according to Mr Smith, although the government had raised the terrorist threat to high on Friday.

Strosniders Hardware Store
Unloading fresh supplies of plastic sheeting
It was not until the newspapers began publishing lists of emergency supplies - and when CIA director George Tenet warned of a specific terrorist threat to Washington - that people began flocking to the stores.

As well as duct tape, scissors and plastic sheeting - used for sealing a room in the case of a chemical or biological attack - the government was recommending stocking up with a three-day supply of water and non-perishable goods, and a torch, radio and batteries.

Many of the women also said they were withdrawing up to $2,000 in cash to use for emergencies, and agreeing a contact plan to meet family members in the case of an evacuation.

War jitters

Shops across Washington were also doing a brisk business in disaster supplies, with lunchtime crowds at Costco in Pentagon City and Home Depot in Fairfax, Virginia.

America's reaction this time to the terrorist alert is very different from the indifference that greeted the last terrorist warning - on the first anniversary of 11 September.

It may be a sign of war jitters, as the possibility of military attack against Iraq draws closer.

But the very real fear of a terrorist attack linked to US action against Iraq is a sign that, at least domestically, the administration is winning the argument about the links between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"A defensive ring deployed around Washington"

Key stories

European probe


See also:

12 Feb 03 | Middle East
12 Feb 03 | Middle East
11 Feb 03 | Middle East
11 Feb 03 | Americas
11 Feb 03 | Europe
11 Feb 03 | Business
11 Feb 03 | Politics
11 Feb 03 | Europe
10 Feb 03 | Europe
11 Feb 03 | Americas
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