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Many Americans Shrug Off Terror Alert

Commuters and holiday travelers alike encountered tighter security at the nation's airports, train stations, bridges and highways Monday, a day after the government raised the national threat level and said attacks were possible during the holidays.

Many people shrugged off the heightened alert, but some were nervous.

Connecticut state troopers watched highway bridges and rode commuter trains heading in and out of New York.

"It's just the government making everyone aware so if something happens, they can say, 'See, we told you,"' said Eric Kerzner, 29, of Milford, Conn., who commutes to New York. "You can't be scared."

On Sunday, the federal government raised the national terror-attack warning to "Code Orange," its second-highest level, following warnings that Al Qaeda (search) may be plotting attacks against the United States during the holidays. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search) said threat indicators are "perhaps greater now than at any point" since Sept. 11.

Some morning commuters seemed unfazed.

Joe Saydlowski, also of Milford, said the elevated level was expected with the recent capture of Saddam Hussein and the holiday season.

"It's disturbing, but I guess kind of anticipated," said Saydlowski, 51. "I think it provides more safety. I'm not sure how much additional protection there is in reality."

New York City, which has been at Code Orange status since the color-coded system was introduced in March 2002, mobilized hundreds of extra police officers to patrol locations considered susceptible to attack -- including places of worship, landmarks, tourist attractions, Wall Street and subway stations.

Waiting for a subway in Lower Manhattan on Monday morning, David Davidson of Brooklyn said he was not concerned about the elevated alert. "Not more than anything else. I understand that living is a risk in itself, and you take it," he said.

In some cases, police assign heavily armed and highly visible "Hercules" teams to deter potential terrorist activity. In other cases, surveillance is less noticeable -- but just as vigilant, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"Whether you think you're being watched or don't think you're being watched, you are being watched," Bloomberg said.

At many airports, including those in and near Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix and New York's Buffalo and Albany, authorities increased patrols and subjected vehicles to inspection.

"There is a heck of a lot more security going on behind the scenes, but I can't comment on that," said Ted Bushelman, a spokesman for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport at Hebron, Ky.

And governors across the country offered the same basic message: Although residents should be vigilant, there was no specific threat against their communities and they should stick to their holiday plans.

"We encourage people to go about their lives. I hope this is yet another false alarm, but we have to be prepared," said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He returned to Boston from a family vacation in Utah to deal with the heightened alert, but planned to fly back as early as Monday.

The alert prompted heavier security at buildings ranging from nuclear power plants to shopping malls. Checkpoints for trucks were heightened at bridges including the Golden Gate Bridge and spans into New York City.

The orange alert did not deter holiday shoppers or travelers.

In Atlanta, at one of the world's busiest airports, Stephanie Williams was bored, filling out a word-search puzzle while waiting for her flight.

"It's Christmas," she said when asked whether the terrorist warning gave her second thoughts about flying. "I just want to get out of here so I can get to my destination and relax."

In New York, Sylvia Marmol, 35, a housekeeper from the borough of Queens, had her children on her mind as she waited for a toy store to open in the Manhattan Mall, hoping to get a few last items.

She said she had heard about the warning being elevated, but hadn't paid too much attention yet "'cause I'm too busy trying to get some things done."

Officials at Boston's Logan Airport (search), where the two hijacked planes that hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, had taken off, added more state police at curbs, terminals and along perimeter roads Sunday, Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella said.

At the city's South Station, Joan Carpenter said she had elected to go ahead with a day trip into the city. "I'm nervous," said Carpenter, of Falmouth. "I figure they know what they're talking about."

And in Cleveland's downtown Greyhound bus terminal, William Ellis, a county jail guard, waited for bus to Akron to pick up his children for a Christmas visit. Ellis, 45, said he wasn't concerned about the heightened security alert, but would like to see more airport-style security for bus travel.

"Anybody can talk in here and walk in the bathroom and leave something and walk out," he said.