Claudine Jordan trembled and struggled to speak after the sales clerk at Chicago's Army Navy Surplus USA store told her that he would sell her only two gas masks, not the six she wanted for her family.
"You tell me who I should save in my family," Jordan demanded. "What child should I save?"
Around the country, the changing face of civilian preparedness now wears a gas mask.
Americans are buying the masks along with water purifiers, antibiotics and survival manuals amid fears that have arisen since the hijackings Sept. 11 that terrorists may also have been planning chemical or biological attacks from crop-dusters and trucks packed with hazardous materials.
"People have realized that flying a plane into the side of the World Trade Center is not the worst thing that could happen," Hugh Brock, owner of Brock's Army Surplus in Decatur, Ga., which sold out of gas masks along with hundreds of other such stores around the country, in big cities and small towns.
After a daylong fruitless search for gas masks for his entire family, Atlanta businessman Dexter Berry wasn't giving up. "We're going to need one. It's just a matter of when," he said. "I want to carry one everywhere I go."
The demand is obvious on Web sites that sell survivalist gear or literature. On eBay, new Israeli gas masks were going for more than $150 Thursday.
On Amazon.com, the No. 2-selling book was about germ warfare, advertised with the hook: "Deadly germs sprayed in shopping malls, bomb-lets spewing anthrax spores over battlefields, tiny vials of plague scattered in Times Square -- these are the poor man's hydrogen bombs."
Some pharmacies have reported a run on the antibiotic Cipro in case of anthrax, a deadly bacterium that some fear could be used in a bioterrorism attack.
Dr. Hugh McLaughlin of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, has been writing patients prescriptions. "To me this is like a bee-sting kit," McLaughlin said. "You have one or two in your pocket and a little more at home."
The Ohio Health Department said prescribing antibiotics for fear of biological terrorism attack "fosters the misuse of antibiotics and may create an unwarranted sense of panic. It is not advised."
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