By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Recognizing that the freeways are unusable, some Los Angeles residents try to get out of the city on surface streets, two-lane roads, dirt roads and, for those with four-wheel drive, fire trails over the San Gabriels. One white-faced driver takes a turn so fast on Angeles Crest Highway that he flies off a cliff in a cloud of dust, a tragedy that doesn't even cause the cars behind him to slow down. Raggedy fleets of small boats and large yachts pour out of marinas in Long Beach, San Pedro and Marina del Rey, headed for Catalina, San Diego, or any other place as long as it isn't L.A. In Venice, three young men break into a sporting-goods store, steal three kayaks and paddle out to sea.
In the meantime, at governmental offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Washington, officials at all levels pull out their bioterrorism playbooks, open the pages to anthrax and start issuing commands. All incoming flights are diverted from LAX, and all outgoing flights are stopped on the ramp. M-16-toting National Guard troops run through the corridors, while bomb-sniffing dogs jump over ticket counters and paw through the luggage. At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Coast Guard patrol boats fly across the water, while 18-year-old apprentice seamen, in flak jackets and steel helmets, finger the triggers of their .60-caliber machine guns. Beneath the surface, scuba divers swim through the murky water under 400-foot container ships, looking for planted mines. On the docks, harried inspectors turn up the sensitivity on their cargo-container radiation detectors until they start getting false hits on natural background radiation in Italian granite countertops and Spanish ceramic tiles.
The FAA grounds all non-scheduled privately owned small planes within California, which so irritates one actor with his own Citation II at Santa Monica Airport that he takes off at 2 a.m. without permission, flying low and fast to the east, without navigation lights and ignoring repeated requests from the tower to land. He makes it all the way to Altadena before an Air National Guard F-16 pilot equipped with infrared sensors and night-vision goggles slips in behind him and fires off two quick bursts from a six-barrel cannon, sending the Citation II crashing into the flanks of Mount Wilson. The ensuing brushfire burns all the way to the solar observatory.
In Washington, D.C., the secretary of defense puts military bases on the highest alert level — Threat Condition Delta (used when a terror attack has just happened or is currently in progress) — while radar-equipped Navy E2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft fly offshore and a Los Angeles class fast-attack submarine cruises at periscope depth though the San Pedro channel. The governor mobilizes the National Guard to protect 450 "high risk" targets, ranging from Metro Rail to City Hall. Dozens of FBI agents, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying shotguns, take up stations around the Federal Building in Westwood. Humvees equipped with Stinger ground-to-air missiles surround the Port of Los Angeles and LAX.ä
THE POLICE, WHO ARE USED TO BEing in charge in any emergency, find it hard to adjust to a situation where other emergency personnel show up and take control. At the Farmers Market, a health worker orders a policeman who walked through a taped-off hazard zone to undress for decontamination. When the policeman indignantly refuses, she shrugs and hoses him down with disinfectant, causing the policeman to punch her out. Other health workers rush to her defense, and by the time a police lieutenant arrives to defuse the situation, the cop is standing in the middle of a circle of a dozen angry paramedics, waving his gun and shouting, "You're allunder arrest."
At the county emergency operations center, a supply officer sends out a request for tents, 100,000 beds, blankets, bottled water and 20,000 body bags. When the county announces a hot line for reporting dangerous substances, frantic citizens overload it with reports of suspicious-looking chalk dust, kitty litter, sheet rock, guacamole, bird droppings, Aspartame, dandruff, cornstarch, Nesquik, Parmesan cheese and nondairy creamer.
Although the CDC sends a 50-ton mobile pharmacy to Los Angeles with antibiotics, vaccines and medical supplies, it's still not enough, as thousands of people descend on distribution centers in doctors' offices, hospitals, council members' offices, recreation offices and schools, demanding 60-day supplies of ciprofloxacin for themselves and their pets. When the cipro runs short, nurses begin substituting other antibiotics, such as doxycycline, amoxicillin and penicillin, causing some people to complain they're being patronized with "sugar pills."
As hospital beds, in short supply at the best of times, quickly fill up, patients spill over into hospital corridors. When lab technicians at USC County General run out of petri dishes, one anguished family pelts them with stool and urine samples. At another clinic, nurses get so tired of the threats and abuse that, when their shifts end, they walk permanently off their jobs, taking all the remaining cipro to treat their own families.
On the streets, vendors sell $139 "ultraviolet flashlights," which they claim will "vaporize" anthrax spores. People jam health-food stores to buy oil of oregano (said to cure anthrax when applied to the tongue). Animal Control and pet stores are inundated with calls from customers trying to find out where to get stretch-fabric muzzle masks for dogs, "like the kind they sell in Israel." A young man in a white jump suit, claiming to be from the health department, goes door-to-door in a Culver City singles complex, telling young women to disrobe so he can wash off "all those nasty anthrax spores." Fearful of contamination, some people iron their relief checks or, even worse, put them in the microwave, causing at least three kitchen fires. Despite repeated assurances from Department of Water and Power officials that the water supply is safe, many residents insist on drinking only bottled water, at $10 a liter and up. In some fancier Westside neighborhoods, drug scalpers go door-to-door selling fake ciprofloxacin to desperate homeowners for $50 a pill.