After talking to a nurse friend, Fred Young decided he wasn't going to take any chances. First thing Wednesday morning, the north Scottsdale resident took a break from his job as a mortgage broker and headed to Larada's Army Surplus Store in Mesa.
Once there, Young filled up his basket with $20 bottles of potassium iodate and water purifying pills. He was still straddling the fence, though, about whether to buy a gas mask. The sign hanging over the $79.95 item promised to filter not only nuclear but biological and chemical agents.
"I have a friend who's a nurse and she says everybody ought to have the potassium pills and everybody is talking about the dirty bomb," Young said.
Young was just one of about 20 people milling around the store's supply of chemical suits, military rations and plastic sheeting.
Since the government raised the nation’s terror alert from yellow to high-risk orange on Friday, East Valley stores of all kinds reported an increase in sales of emergency preparedness items. Orange is the second-highest level of alert and was boosted because of intelligence indicating al-Qaida was planning attacks on the United States.
Mimi Meredith, director of public relations for Bashas', said her grocery stores have seen a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in water sales, and Mark McKinnon, an assistant manager at a Gilbert Home Depot, said rolls of plastic and duct tape are flying off the shelves.
"It's the same kind of thing we saw with Y2K, but it was more intense then because people were worried about the power going out, too, and they were buying power generators," McKinnon said. "I think most of the people are in a precautionary mode. Out of the 25 people that I personally dealt with, only one person seemed panicky."
Cam Hunter, public information officer for the Arizona Division of Emergency Management, said people should always have extra food and water on hand in case of emergency. The level to which one should prepare is a personal choice, however.
"It's always important for people to be informed and aware of what's going on and to take steps to be prepared," Hunter said.
Over at Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse in Scottsdale, assistant manager Ronnie Clary said he was surprised to see the increase in sales of plastic and duct tape over the weekend.
"I'm starting to think myself about taking some preparatory steps. I hadn't thought about taping up my windows, but I am now," Clary said.
Brent Pendleton, the manager at Larada's, said his customers also seem to be preparing "just in case."
"I had a guy come in and say he feels silly for buying the stuff, but he said he'd feel sillier if he didn't and then he needed it," Pendleton said.
Pendleton said his biggest sellers so far have been the Meals, Ready-to-Eat, commonly known as MREs, and the potassium iodate pills, which purportedly assist the thyroid in blocking radiation from entering the body.
Mesa resident Alice Baze said she has always stocked her pantry in case of a weather emergency, but she headed to Larada's after her son, who is in the Navy, suggested she buy a supply of MREs.
Gilbert resident Ramon Dejesus stocked up on the pills and Carpet Mask, which, at $8.95 a roll, is sold to people who want to prevent harmful materials from coming in through air-conditioning vents, windows and wall plugs.
Dejesus said reports of terrorist sleeper cells living in the United States scares him and he isn't taking any risks.
"It's sad it's come to this point," Dejesus said. "Life is too beautiful to depend upon someone else's will."