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Unease Pervades a Peaceable Town

Nunkester, a Bush supporter "without hesitation," is patrolling the 44 miles of streets in Berwick when he says this, armed with a gun, a radio and a cell phone that rings to the tune of "God Bless America." Before 9/11, he says, the calls were always about drunks, domestics, break-ins and drugs, but now more and more are about the small plane circling overhead, or the blimp in the distance headed their way, or the car at the drive-through with a Middle Eastern driver and a map unfolded on the front seat.

Or the complaint that comes now from Greg Tingley, general manager of the Fresh N Quik, who is describing how shaken he had become the day before when some people from India, or Iraq, or somewhere that certainly wasn't Berwick, came "barreling" into the store. "I was thinking the worst," he says. "Are they going to do something? Are they going to blow up the gas station?"


For Berwick, along the Susquehanna River, ribbons and the nuclear power plant upstream seem to symbolize the spirit of unease that has settled on the community since the 2001 attacks and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (David Finkel -- The Washington Post)

_____Where's Berwick?_____
Map of Area


That's what the war has done most of all so far, Nunkester says -- create a sense of unease in people, including in himself.

If he sees a car with tinted windows?

That could be a car bomb, he says.

If he sees someone walking around on a hot day with too much clothing on?

That could be a suicide bomber, he says.

"Well, nothing's going to happen in little Berwick," he says people say to him from time to time.

"Well, yes it is," he now says.

Asking for the Power Plant

Of all the things that have happened, everyone in Berwick agrees that the most disturbing occurred at 11 a.m. on June 29, when a Nissan Quest minivan with New York license plates pulled up in front of Rinehimer Equipment on Route 11, the road that leads from Berwick to the power plant. Wayne Rinehimer was inside at the time, and he watched through the front window of his shop as a man who would later be described in newspaper reports as "Arab-looking" got out of the minivan.

"It's not like I was looking for terrorists or anything," Rinehimer recalls. "He walks in, wants to know where the power plant is. He said, 'Do they have a pond up there where I can go fishing?' " After that, he says, the man walked back to the van to talk to four other people who had climbed out, and then came the startling sound of a helicopter, circling lower and lower over his shop. "The next thing I know, they were swarming from all directions," he says. "There were friggin' cops everywhere."

That's how Berwick's brush with terrorism -- or not -- began. To this day, the Pennsylvania State Police, whose helicopter it was, won't say much about what six hours of questioning five men produced. They will say that four of the men were of Bangladeshi descent and one was of Pakistani descent. They won't release names. They will say that the men stopped several times as they made their way through Pennsylvania to ask where the power plant in Berwick was, causing enough concerned phone calls for police to issue a bulletin that some possibly suspicious men might be on the way to Susquehanna Steam.

They will say that the men repeated to them that they wanted to go fishing, that's all, just fishing; that they had no fishing poles or tackle or licenses, only a single net; and that there was no reason to arrest them. And so the men went away, and Berwick continues to wonder how close it came to being New York City or Washington, D.C.

"Odd" is the characterization of Joseph Scopelliti, supervisor of the nuclear plant's information center. "Tremendously odd."

"Are they testing us?" says Nunkester, wondering why, if they were terrorists, they would ask people for directions. "Are they seeing what our response times are? Seeing how we handle a situation? How long we detain them? How we do it? What we do?"


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