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Calming FL fears

BY SUSAN KIM | MIAMI, FL | September 13, 2002

"We feel like we're waiting for the other shoe to drop."

—Lesli Remaly

Disaster responders were trying to calm people's fears in Florida while dogs and robots searched two cars on a South Florida highway for explosives.

Two cars were stopped after a woman at a Calhoun, Ga. Restaurant overheard three men making what public safety officials called "alarming" remarks.

Reports of specific remarks include comments about if Americans mourning are mourning 9/11, what they will do about 9/13. Also overheard were references to "bringing down" Miami.

A "rumor control hotline" was activated in Miami-Dade County to try to calm people's fears, said Lesli Remaly, a Church World Service disaster response and recovery liaison.

Activated by local emergency management officials, "it's normally set up for hurricanes," she explained. "But in this case there was much confusion as people discovered what was happening that it was activated."

Friday's threat "continued to heighten the fear factor" among Florida residents, Remaly added. "We feel like we're waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Remaly was in close contact with the Florida nonprofit Neighbors for Neighbors, which worked with local churches and other groups Wednesday to staff a phone bank to help people cope with 9/11-related depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems.

That phone bank could be reopened if Friday's situation draws out much longer, said Remaly, or "if we discover an official attempt was made to harm the city."

Knowledge of the threat began to unfold after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued an advisory about the cars. Both with Illinois license plates, they were pulled over in Florida Friday after one ran a tollbooth on Interstate 75.

A Florida alert that was issued on the two cars said: "The men discussed celebrating in Chicago on 9/11 when everyone else was in mourning."

It was unclear Friday afternoon if explosives had indeed been found, or if the plot was connected to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported all three men were legally in the U.S.

The Florida Highway Patrol reported that the men were "uncooperative" after being pulled over.

The highway, which stretches between Naples and Ft. Lauderdale, remained closed Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile Tropical Storm Hanna, after forming in the central Gulf of Mexico, was heading toward Florida Friday. Forecasters expected the storm to bring more rain than wind.

Tropical storm warnings were posted from the Florida panhandle to the Gulf coast of Louisiana.

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