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Armed With Spam, Extra Water and Energy Bars

Home Front: How We Cope * One in a series

September 20, 2001|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just a month ago, we might have thought them extreme, if not a bit wacky. Who are these people who stockpile huge amounts of food and water against the chance that not just an earthquake, but an actual apocalypse might happen?

On Sept. 11, we came close.

Since then, some people have taken steps common among the survivalists' ranks. We have, after all, been told by our heads of state that America must be prepared, that terrorists are out there, that war is on the horizon. What could it hurt to have a few 55-gallon drums of water with a five-year shelf life conveniently stashed on the property? Who could debate the prudence of a larder filled with food and other essentials that might be unobtainable if there were another disaster?

Radio hosts--even at the serious, noncommercial stations--have switched from reports at ground zero to interviews with terrorism experts, most of whom predict that any future attacks will be biological and/or chemical.

Dennison Samaroo explains his response to all this: "I don't want to die because there's poison in my tap water when maybe--if I have my own water supply for a while--I can live. I can wait until the tap water clears or until I can travel elsewhere."

Samaroo, an actor and makeup artist, says the talk among his friends about survival supplies began as a kind of ghoulish humor after the Sept. 11 attack. "Slowly, it dawned on us that it was not paranoia, that there was nothing even darkly humorous about it, that there actually were terrorists out there--or at least the possibility of them. It was about preparedness, not paranoia. It was about learning to cope with a new reality."

Although he had some earthquake supplies at his San Fernando Valley house, he decided to get more. Many more. He has stockpiled candles, matches, water, canned goods, dog food for his black lab Chewy, pairs of sturdy sneakers. He has the supplies sprinkled in crucial spots around his home, and a smaller stash in his car--enough stuff so that he can "survive and hike long distances if I have to."

Renee Evans, 57, used to keep extra canned goods and water in her West Hollywood apartment, just in case of an earthquake. "But my husband is a part-time actor, and when times got rough, we used it. It came in real handy." She never replaced those supplies--until this week. "I am terrified. It's all really scary. I'm putting up canned goods and water 'cause I don't know what's gonna happen next. They could mess with our food, our water supply. We'd be sitting ducks. I haven't been sleeping too much. I've been watching, praying and trying to figure out what we can do."

Evans and her husband went to Costco to buy canned beans, corn, Spam and tuna, a baseball bat and water. "I won't have a gun--but they better not be coming in here. They won't get past that bat."

And if she sees them coming, she'll call for help on her cell phone. It's the top new item on all survivalists' lists--a veritable run on cell phones has occurred across the country since the tragedy.

Dana Manley, marketing communications manager at the Dallas-based headquarters of the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, says that a study of sales figures since the disaster reveals that prepaid cell phones showed "a very significant increase in sales--in fact, they increased more than anything else except gasoline. I guess people wanted to top off their tanks and then make sure they could communicate."

Since the attacks, Sherry Heitz of Thousand Oaks said her earthquake preparedness business, Quake Care, has "taken on a new twist," as people decide to cope with reality rather than ignore it. "We saw a bit of this at Y2K, but nothing as profound as the current situation. It seems that people's perspective on vulnerability has changed. They are willing to prepare against what they hope will not happen. They are treating it almost like life insurance."

She says that 55-gallon water tanks are her best sellers, along with a wide array of food bars, solar-powered radio/lantern combinations, and other essentials usually stored in smaller amounts by people preparing for earthquakes.

She is also getting requests for gas masks, which she says even she finds "a little scary."

But stores around the country report that the masks are sellout items--even though they come with disclaimers that they don't protect against many potential airborne killers and that they must be carefully fitted to the face.

Since the disaster, Wendy Eckmann of Simi Valley has donated to various charities, has given blood--and has taken stock of the survival supplies that would keep her family safe in case of a disaster. She found the stock inadequate.

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