ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Isolated and sparsely populated Alaska seemed far removed from terrorist threats until Tuesday, when federal officials said Al Qaeda (search) operatives may target remote sites such as oil facilities.
The warning has residents on edge in Valdez (search), where tankers load Prudhoe Bay (search) oil destined for the continental United States. The waterfront town of almost 4,200 people is located at the end of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
"You have this almost false sense of security because 'I'm in Alaska, I'm safe,"' said Stacey Nease, 39, a cashier at Cap'n Joes Tesoro gas station. "You think 'Who's going to target us?' Your heart starts beating fast, you're kind of in a panic mode. It's scary."
The report prompted Valdez Mayor Bert Cottle to prepare a late-afternoon statement for local broadcast, explaining the elevation in the nation's terror threat level. The mayor also wanted to calm people's nerves, said City Clerk Sheri Pierce.
Cottle said there would be an influx of state and federal resources in the next few days in response to the elevated security level. But he also said Valdez had no specific threat information.
"There is no reason to change travel plans or alter your holiday activities as a result of these recent events," he said.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said national security officials told him that only general threats were made.
"The bulk of evidence about al-Qaida points more and more to areas that have significant infrastructure dealing with the national economy — and we have two in Alaska, the Port of Valdez and the airport in Anchorage," Stevens said. "That's two among hundreds in the nation."
However, Valdez officials are reviewing the town's emergency plan and security has been increased at the Port of Valdez, where armed Coast Guard patrols were more visible.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Alaska disaster officials identified the pipeline — which carries 17 percent of the nation's domestic oil supply — as the only real terrorist target that could have national implications.
There are 18 storage tanks in Valdez with a capacity to hold 9.1 million barrels of oil.
In a November 2001 confidential report obtained by The Associated Press, then-Adjutant General Phillip Oates noted the Valdez oil terminal, the Port of Anchorage and Nikiski Terminals in Cook Inlet could also be potential international targets.
The 26-year-old pipeline follows an 800-mile route from the Arctic's Prudhoe Bay on the Beaufort Sea south to Valdez, 305 road miles east of Anchorage. More than half of the steel pipeline lies aboveground along remote but easily accessible terrain.
The report, citing a 2001 incident in which an intoxicated Livengood man firing a rifle punctured the pipeline, found that a "single individual, let alone an organized effort, could cause great harm and potentially stop production and delivery of oil to the terminus in Valdez."
Not everyone was worried about the vulnerability of Valdez. Kathy Reddick, 57, owner of the Hairport Day Spa, said she feels much safer since Sept. 11. There are now more patrols by the Coast Guard, along with better-trained police and oil facility security crews.
"We are surrounded by people in the know, so to speak," Reddick said. "We've had all kinds of emergency drills around here. There are people around who in just a few hours can take care of things."