Fearing terrorism and civil unrest, some people plan to avoid the crowds on New Year's Eve, hunker down with their remote controls and watch the final minutes of 1999 dribble away on television.
Yesterday, Seattle officials canceled a New Year's Eve bash at the Space Needle, a few days after an Algerian man was charged with smuggling explosives across the Canadian border. The State Department has warned of terrorist attacks abroad, and the FBI cautioned people to be on the lookout for mail bombs from Germany.
Gun merchants, meanwhile, said sales are up in Maryland and nationwide in response to fears that Y2K computer glitches could lead to violence and looting. And Maryland National Guard officials are locking doors and increasing security, citing concerns about terrorism and the vandalism this month of two A-10 jets by peace activists.
Not surprisingly, a poll found that about half of Americans plan to avoid crowds Friday evening. That has prompted some local officials to try to reassure people that it's safe to celebrate.
Baltimore City officials yesterday said they plan to flood downtown streets with three times the normal contingent of police for this year's Inner Harbor New Year's parade, fireworks and party. "We are anticipating everything," Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "And expecting nothing."
Some people are not reassured. Lindsay Pastore, 21, a University of Buffalo student visiting relatives in Baltimore, said she plans to avoid big public events and celebrate privately with friends. "I really think that there are people who believe the world is coming to an end and would do something crazy about it," she said. "I'm not certain terrorism is going to happen. But I don't want to take chances, either."
`They're all staying home'
Rachel Libonati, 27, who works at Paine Webber in Baltimore, said she isn't worried about trouble Friday night, but many of her co-workers are. "The women in my office are all very concerned," she said. "They're all staying home."
Sean Quinn, 23, who works for a car rental agency at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said he is leery of rowdy New Year's crowds, even without the threat of terrorism. Two years ago, he was in Times Square on New Year's Eve when he heard a gunshot. "I saw people get trampled," he said.
"I plan to be in my living room, watching TV probably," he said.
To head off trouble, New York City has assigned 7,000 police officers -- double the normal complement -- to patrol Times Square. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said the celebrations would go ahead as planned because it would be impossible to cancel them. "People would show up anyway," he told ABC News.
The White House has tried to balance warnings of possible terrorist attacks with reassurances. "I don't think the American people should stop their holiday activity," President Clinton said last week. But he urged people to "be careful."
Last week, the State Department reaffirmed its warning that Americans traveling to religious sites or year 2000 events abroad could be the targets of terrorist attacks. Security was tightened at airports and at the nation's borders.
Brisk gun sales
Fears that Y2K could lead, domino-style, to blackouts, looting and riots in the United States have stimulated firearms sales nationwide, CBS News reported.
Business has been brisk this week at the Valley Gun Shop in Parkville, said manager Terry Aycock. When gun shop employees tell customers that they can't get a handgun by Friday because of the state's mandatory seven-day waiting period, some buy shotguns instead. Most rifles and shotguns are not covered by the waiting period.
"This is not your screaming-demon, radical, 27,000-drums-of-water-in-the-basement people," Aycock said. Among the impatient customers he's seen in recent days have been police officers and people working in the computer industry. He said that when he asks them what they fear, they say they're not sure.
"These are the same people who, every time it snows, they've got to run out and get toilet paper," Aycock said. "They're panicking."
Baltimore's annual Inner Harbor celebration is expected to attract more than 200,000 people for music, fireworks and a parade. Col. Bert Shirey, acting Baltimore police commissioner, said the department will deploy 1,300 officers downtown and in city neighborhoods Friday night. "We're just going to have a lot of people on the street," Shirey said. "We've done a lot of preparations. We feel very comfortable that we can handle it."
Maryland National Guard officials sent out a memorandum Thursday warning its 37 facilities to tighten security. Capt. Drew Sullins, a Guard spokesman, said the warning came in response to national reports of terrorism threats, as well as the attack by peace activists, including former Priest Philip F. Berrigan, on two National Guard jets at Martin State Airport on Dec. 19.