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A 'high' terrorism alert leaves some in dread

News heightens anxiety, fear for holiday shoppers, workers

They agonized over flying, kept their children close at hand, and even thought twice about taking the T yesterday, as a "high" terrorism alert scared some shoppers and disrupted the fragile optimism of the holiday season.

 

"This is going to ruin the holiday," said Suzanne Vrooman, a data entry clerk who said she plans to spend most of Christmas watching the news at home. "Everyone's worried. When I saw this headline in the paper, I thought, `Oh, my God, not in holiday time.' "

Earlier this month, a snowstorm kept holiday shoppers home from the malls. This week, a heightened terrorism alert dashed any sense of victory after the capture of Saddam Hussein. The US government raised the terror alert to orange, saying there is high risk that terrorists might strike during the holiday season.

At the CambridgeSide Galleria, where police officers patrolled the hallways and watched over parked cars, some mall employees in Santa hats looked concerned yesterday.

Manoel Camurugi, who operates the mall's water massage machine, said the holiday crowds have him on edge.

"A lot of people come here for shopping, and it makes me nervous," he said. "I think, `Oh, my God, am I safe here or not?' "

Edith Shindledecker, 78, said she shares a similar thought. She said she has become so concerned about terrorism that she refuses to go out alone.

She said she used to travel by plane and take cruises around the world. Now, she said she won't fly and thinks that every plane that cruises low over her East Boston home might be carrying terrorists.

"I'm afraid to go out now for a loaf of bread," she said. "It's terrible. It's just terrible."

Her husband, Fred, 71, who accompanies her most places, looked around at people at the food court.

"This would be a good place for a terrorist attack, a mall like this," he said.

Despite the dire predictions, some shoppers remained unfazed.

"I thought, `Here we go again,' " said Phillip Davis, a retired government worker who lives in Medford. "I have no problem. I feel great."

A few took comfort in the heightened security yesterday, saying that terrorists would not dare to strike if the United States is on high alert.

"We hear warnings, and people get alarmed, but then nothing happens," said Wendy Caludio, who was shopping in Cambridge with her 14-year-old son. "They start putting these alerts and alarms, `We're going to have a terrorist attack,' but then it'll happen when we least expect it."

Issie Shait, vice president of the CambridgeSide Galleria, said security has been enhanced since the orange alert, but he did not give details.

He said that the mall has separate security procedures for each terrorism alert level.

"The difference is extensive," he said. "We look at everything."

Meanwhile, added security at federal buildings yesterday, including courthouses and post offices, made some last-minute holiday shoppers just a little jittery. Janet Ryan, mailing books and hand puppets at the federal building in Post Office Square downtown, said she considered the danger, but decided to go ahead, anyway.

"I wouldn't say I was worried; it was more of an awareness," she said. "I thought, `A post office and a courthouse -- this is probably a prime target area.' But I wasn't going to let it stop me from what I needed to get done."

For some, the effects of the orange alert are just beginning. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Marilyn Grealish held off on flying for an entire year. Over and over again, the Somerville furniture store owner watched the images on television of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center.

She had just grown accustomed to airplanes again when the government raised its terrorism alert to orange. Now, she's scheduled to fly to Florida next week, and she can't get the image of the New York destruction out of her head.

Before stepping on board, she plans to offer a prayer.

"I'm going to ask God to watch over me," said Grealish, 62. "I'm not afraid to die. My faith sustains me. But I'm afraid to die the way they want me to die."

Sasha Talcott can be reached at stalcott@globe.com.

Terror alert levels
 R E D  |  Severe
Severe risk of attacks
 O R A N G E  |  High
High risk of attacks
 Y E L L O W  |  Elevated
Significant risk of attacks
 B L U E  |  Guarded
General risk of attacks
 G R E E N  |  Low
Low risk of attacks

Source: Dept. of Homeland Security
On the web
Department of Homeland Security
 www.dhs.gov

Terrorism preparedness guide
 www.ready.gov
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