At least 11 bomb scares tied up morning rush-hour traffic and heightened anxiety in this military center Tuesday, a day after six pipe bombs were found attached to a pair of giant chemical storage tanks.
Police and fire officials throughout the Hampton Roads area spent much of the day fielding anonymous bomb threats, evacuating buildings, closing roads and searching for explosives. No bombs were found, and authorities attributed the flurry of threats to pranksters.``It's just sparked people to go crazy,' said Officer Karl Morrisette of the Portsmouth Police Department.
At the same time, law enforcement officials reported no leads or suspects in their investigation of the six pipe bombs, which were successfully removed from two tanks Monday in Norfolk. They stressed that no evidence has been found either linking them to the Persian Gulf war or ruling out such a link.
Experts said the incident did not fit the typical pattern of terrorists' work. Usually, a group immediately claims responsibility so that its cause gets media attention; no group claimed to have planted the Norfolk bombs.
The bombs and the subsequent threats did accomplish a terrorist goal of stirring fear, however.
``I am highly nervous about this,' said Virginia Richardson of Norfolk, whose balloon business has outlets on several military installations and malls. ``I feel like we're sitting on a powder keg and that anything can go off at any time.'
Home of the world's largest naval base and nearly a dozen other military installations, Hampton Roads has dispatched about 40,000 service members to the Persian Gulf War.
Tuesday's bomb threats were scattered at civilian and military sites and did not appear to fit any pattern, suggesting to police that they were the work of attention-seekers rather than terrorists.
``In any kind of situation like this, you have copycat activity,' said Jess Zimmerman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The most serious scare Tuesday closed the Downtown Tunnel linking Portsmouth and Norfolk for almost four hours beginning just after 8 a.m., clogging alternate routes for hundreds of drivers until authorities reopened the tunnel.
The tunnel, the second-busiest of the area's four tunnels, carries Interstate 264 under the Elizabeth River between Portsmouth and Norfolk. About 80,000 vehicles use it each day.