- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

In Duncanville, Texas, Home Depot has the plastic sheets and duct tape in special displays up front.

At Lowes Home Improvement in Danvers, Mass., there's been an increase in duct tape and plastic sheeting sales.

But in Skokie, Ill., there's been no significant increase in sales for basic supplies and in Sacramento, Calif., people are wondering if all the talk about sealing a room in the house and stockpiling water and other emergency supplies is a joke.

Federal officials last week raised the nation's security alert level from yellow to orange. Earlier this week, they recommended people lay in three days worth of supplies and be able to seal off a room in case terrorists stage a biological, chemical or dirty bomb attack to coincide with the end of the annual hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage.

Dr. Wynn Mabry, homeland security director for the Charlotte, N.C., area, said he doesn't think plastic and duct tape will do much for anyone.

"If I was in my neighborhood and heard there was a chemical situation I would get in my car, roll the windows up and get out," he said. "We don't want to get people confused and stay when they should leave."

And in Congress Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., called the recommendations lacking.

"The response yesterday from the administration was that the American people ought to go buy more plastic and duct tape," Daschle said. "If that is their only response, then I believe that the people of this country ought to hold them far more accountable than that."

The Minority leader said, "They have to do a lot more than tell people that the responsibility is now on their shoulders."

Sales of duct tape were especially brisk in the Washington area where a Lowe's hardware store in Alexandria, Va., reported it was completely sold out and the competing Home Depot reported sales had tripled. In Bethesda, Md., Strosniders Hardware reported it was out of plastic sheeting and customers also were stockpiling flashlights, first-aid kits and water.

"It seemed like a few were legitimately panicked," manager Craig Smith told the Washington Post. "Others were calm and others were laughing. But even the ones that were laughing were trying to get whatever they could."

Business has been booming at Lehman's hardware store in Kidron, Ohio, in the heart of Amish country. The stores cater to the Amish and sell all kinds of appliances not dependent on electricity. Storeowner Glenda Lehman Ervin said sales have doubled since the federal government upgraded the nation's alert status. She said she even had to talk some people out of buying wood stoves because they didn't understand about chimneys.

Duncanville, Texas, Home Depot manager Tom Gebing said he's set up special displays of emergency items in response to the government warning.

"A lot of people are coming in and asking specifically for it," he said.

In Houston, Nancy Ballard purchased batteries, tape and 500 square feet of plastic sheeting from a local hardware store.

"I figure the government for the last few days has issued all these warnings, and now with the potential tape of Osama bin Laden coming out, I'm not willing to take my chances," she told the Houston Chronicle.

Ballard said she has never stocked up for disasters in the past.

In the Northeast, the larger home improvement stores report an increase in sales of such items as duct tape and plastic sheeting.

"Actually, we have seen such an increase," said Alan Lerch, a store manager at Lowes Home Improvement center in Danvers, Mass.

"We have seen a significant increase" in the sale of duct tape and plastic sheeting but not of items such as flashlights or batteries, said Kurt Michalewicz, store manager at Home Depot in Everett, Mass.

Herry Ramasami, assistant general manager of a Home Depot in Hollywood, Fla., said his store is carrying an "excessive" amount of duct tape and large amounts of water. "We have been planning for this," Ramasami said.

In the Sacramento, Calif., region, residents said they weren't overly concerned by the warnings, and in some cases, greeted them with skepticism.

"Is this a joke?" the manager at Home Depot on East Bidwell Street in Folsom, Calif., asked the Sacramento Bee when asked if she had noticed a run on duct tape and plastic sheets.

Kristof Plizga of Burlingame, Calif., bought some rolls of plastic Tuesday to keep a retaining wall dry. He wasn't worried about a chemical attack.

"If I die, I die," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think the best way to deal with a threat is to prevent it, not scare people and ask them to buy plastic."

"People got too many other things to worry about: Keeping their jobs, mortgage payments, paying their bills," Steve Rutlege, 54, of North Raleigh, N.C., told the Raleigh News and Observer. "What's more important: Keeping your job or getting gassed?"

Juan Swart, chairman of the Fair Oaks, Mass., Community Planning Advisory Council, said he hasn't heard many of his neighbors talking about the possible terrorist threat. Those who do know about the federal government's recommendations, he said, aren't taking them seriously.

John Rausch, manager of the Chase-Pitkin Home and Garden in Pittsford, N.Y., said none of his customers has mentioned the alert.

At a Target store in Hollywood, Fla., manager on duty Monica Villa said there has been no noticeable increase of sales.

"We haven't heard anything. Right now we have a huge Valentine's Day sale," Villa said.

Steve Oakley, the manager of a hardware store in Chicago's trendy Streeterville neighborhood, said he's been cleaned out of a lot of emergency supplies — but as for himself, he's not taking any duct tape or plastic home.

"I'm not in a major area," he said. "I'm a suburbanite."

John Knolton, the manager of the Jewel Food Store on Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, Ill., which has both significant Jewish and Arab populations, said sales have been nothing out of the ordinary.

"I think our people have been stocking up all along," he said, adding that the store is not showing any shortages of water or other staples.

One of the cashiers, however, said she had a customer Tuesday who bought six shower curtains. Why shower curtains?

"They're reusable in case nothing happens," she said.

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