Security-minded clear the shelves

It's a joke to some, but sales of water, plastic and duct tape soar

Portlanders stripped the shelves of some area stores of duct tape, plastic sheeting and bottled water after warnings of a high terrorist threat level sent them running to assemble emergency kits.

On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge advised a response of vigilance, not panic.

'I want to make something very, very clear at this point: We do not want individuals or families to start sealing their doors or their windows,' he said.

But his calming words came too late for some scared citizens. Reaction in Portland wasn't as strong as in some East Coast cities, but the tension made its mark.

The Bi-Mart store at Southeast 44th Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard, for example, sold out of duct tape two days after the terrorist warning, and cases of bottled water, advertised in the Eugene-based chain's circular, also flew out of the store.

Many of the buyers were retirees who have endured World War II and other U.S. wars as well as the atomic bomb threat of the Cold War. Younger shoppers sloughed off the national terrorism warnings.

'Younger ones, they're laughing about it, they're not that serious,' said Lora Coons, a Bi-Mart employee.

The federal warning suggested that an emergency supply kit should include the duct tape and plastic sheeting in sufficient quantity to seal a house or rooms from any hazardous materials spread in a chemical or biological attack.

Coons and other Bi-Mart employees spent the rest of the week answering phone calls about the availability of disaster supplies.

'We're completely out of duct tape,' she told a caller Friday. 'I'm so sorry. We can't get it until Monday.'

Coon said one older man bought a plastic tote and filled it with disaster supplies, from plastic sheeting and duct tape to water and canned goods. 'He said, 'I love her so much, I want to be safe with her,' ' she said.

Coincidentally,Êbecause stores' sales circulars are prepared months in advance, Fred Meyer stores had a special on bottled water, too, and it sold briskly. Company spokesman Rob Boley said he was unsure the sales had anything to do with the terrorist warning. 'It was just an ad; we were expecting to sell a lot of it,' he said.

At the Gresham Fred Meyer, a clerk said both duct tape and plastic were selling well ÑÊincluding to a woman who said it was a joke Valentine's Day gift for her husband.

Some Home Depot stores featured special displays of duct tape and plastic sheeting. At the Home Depot store at Mall 205, an aisle was stocked with a wide variety of duct tape and plastic sheeting, ranging from 9-by-12-foot painter's dropcloths for 98 cents to heavy-duty roll plastic.

At the Target store in the same mall, Executive Team Leader Phil Brown said they weren't seeing panic buying. 'It's kind of hard to track, but I haven't noticed any extreme measures,' he said.

Elsewhere in Oregon, the terrorist warning sparked a flurry of orders for the product sold by American Safe Room Inc. in Roseburg Ñ a filtration unit that sells for $1,270 to $1,768.

Safe Room's Web site claims that the unit, called the Safe Cell, is effective in removing 'war gasses' from nuclear fallout to phosgene. It also warns potential buyers that to receive a unit in early March, they must place a $500 deposit as soon as possible.

Emergency preparedness officials point out that even without a terrorist threat, it's a good idea for families to keep on hand a 72-hour disaster kit, including water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and other items, including prescription medications.

The Multnomah County sheriff's Web site at lists items that should be included in a disaster kit.

Contact Jeanie Senior at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..