Abandoned water cooler causes Times Square scare

(AP) - Police cleared streets around Times Square onFriday and called in the bomb squad after finding a cooler and ashopping bag left on a sidewalk about a block from where a failedcar bomb was found over the weekend. They opened streets to trafficafter finding out the cooler contained only water bottles.

A nearby shopping bag had books and a gift wrapped in pinktissue paper.

Police had earlier cordoned off a pedestrian mall and nearbystreets with yellow tape around 1:15 p.m., while yelling "Getback, get back" at onlookers and guiding bomb-sniffing dogsthrough the area.

The bomb squad X-rayed the soft-sided green cooler and the bagfound on the pedestrian mall to determine, "in an abundance ofcaution," whether it posed a threat, NYPD spokesman Paul Brownesaid.

Six NYPD officers opened the cooler and the bag, took out thecontents and carried it off about an hour later, when thedepartment said there was no threat.

"It was exciting, but it seemed a little silly, after all - acooler that somebody left there," said psychiatrist ThorBergersen, of Newton, Mass., who watched the drama from the eighthfloor of the Marriott Marquis hotel.

The department has had a 30 percent uptick in the number ofsuspicious package reports since the failed bombing in TimesSquare.

"This is something that happens fairly regularly," PoliceCommissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday. "When you have a majorevent, the reports of suspicious packages will go up. I think to acertain extent, people are becoming more suspicious, more vigilantand that results in more calls."

Times Square vendor Walter "Candyman" Wells was among thosefeeling suspicious. Sitting on a stool near his table of T-shirts, he looked outFriday onto the street, already back to its usual bustle after thescare. "I think they're testing us, whoever is doing this. They'retesting our tolerance for putting up with this chaos."

"They're playing chess with us right now, but they ain't gonnawin," the Vietnam veteran said. "'Cause we're the BobbyFischers."

No evacuations have been ordered from buildings, but workerswere told to stay indoors as the police responded. Cars approachingthe area were told to turn back as an eerie silence descended onthe area.

Henry Goldfine, an attorney from New Jersey attending a meetingat the hotel, said he had planned to relax on the Times Squarepedestrian mall but was turned away.

"Instead, I'm going back where there's no air and no light,"Goldfine said, standing near the hotel. "We don't have things likethis in New Jersey."

On an average day, police get 90 to 100 reports of a suspiciouspackage. Browne said there were more than 145 reports on Thursdayalone.

A package discovered earlier Friday near the area where the carbomb was discovered turned out to be someone's lunch.

On Wednesday, the bomb squad was called out to look at a truckwith a strong odor of gasoline abandoned on the Robert F. KennedyBridge, but nothing dangerous was found inside.

"People are being more vigilant, and that's a good thing,"Browne said earlier Friday. "People are also getting their lostproperty returned a lot faster these days," he quipped.

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