Fear and fatalism on mass transit

Commuters and tourists are wary in U.S. capital

`It's a risk wherever you go'

No significant drop-off in traffic on the Metro

Bombings In London

July 08, 2005|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Dora Aguado boarded a Red Line train at the Grosvenor Metro station in Montgomery County yesterday for her usual ride to work, but she did so with trepidation. Having awoken to news of the rush-hour bombings in London, Aguado, a Bethesda resident, thought twice about whether she should find another way to her Washington office.

"People were watching over their shoulders," Aguado, an attorney, recalled. "I was tense. I actually thought about driving instead."

With a mix of hope, fear and fatalism, Washington-area commuters and tourists alike took Metro trains and hopped buses despite news that explosions had ripped through the London transit system that morning. Some said they felt the day was probably among the safest for commuters because local police were out in force. Others said they were unwilling to change their plans and that they've accepted that life is simply different in a post-Sept. 11 world.

"It's a risk wherever you go," said Gregory Better, a Washington social studies teacher who took the Metro to a doctor's appointment near Farragut North. "If something's going to happen, it's going to happen."

Code orange

In a day marked by assurances from U.S. officials that they were doing all they could to keep the country safe, the Bush administration raised the terrorism alert to code orange, or high, for the nation's mass transit systems. In Washington, the heightened alert was apparent in the bomb-sniffing dogs that searched some Metro stations, travelers said, and in the increased number of officers stationed at stops around the city.

Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams called the London bombings "heinous" and an attack on American values. He said officials had not gathered any intelligence indicating a threat against Washington.

"We are asking people to keep their eyes and ears open," Williams said during a morning speech on Capitol Hill. "But we are also asking people to continue to go about their daily business, because if we do so, terrorists can't win."

3 percent drop

Many people heeded the mayor's advice. Candace Smith, a spokeswoman for the Metro, said there wasn't a major drop-off in traffic during the morning rush hour. As of 11 a.m., 273,127 people had traveled via the Metro. That's down 3 percent from the same period on Wednesday, Smith said.

Smith said the Washington Metro, a 106-mile system that includes 86 stations, was being searched throughout the day.

"We've been sweeping all the trains and the buses and the stations," she said.

Only one station, Medical Center in Bethesda, was closed yesterday. Officials shut it down for less than an hour when a suspicious package was found.

Shuhua Huang, 41, and her family toured Washington's tourist spots by trolley yesterday. Huang, who hails from Taiwan, said their trip will continue. Their next stop is New York City.

"I think we face risk everywhere," she said.

D.C. vacation

Dave Baker, 41, a respiratory therapist from Orange County, Calif., brought his two sons and mother to Washington for a vacation this week. Before flying home yesterday, they made one last stop at the White House. Baker said his family took the Metro to a nearby stop as planned. The London incidents seemed far away. And, as his mother, Julie Baker, put it, people have to live their lives.

"You know, somehow or another you have to keep going," she said.

Laura and Paul Fuller, both 67 and visiting from Palm Desert, Calif., said they'd taken the Metro all over Washington and that they wouldn't stop because of the London bombings. Still, Laura Fuller said she felt a "twinge" of worry when she found out about the attacks. Paul Fuller said it crossed his mind that he and his wife were on the East Coast, in the nation's capital, instead of safe at home.

"It increases my sense of vulnerability," Paul Fuller said during a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. "I'd hate to admit that if a terrorist is going to get me, he's going to get me."

Visit to London

But the Fullers said they're at the time in their lives when exploring new places is vital. They said they've recently planned a trip to Europe next year and that they'll keep London on their itinerary.

Sun staff writer Melissa Harris contributed to this article.

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