Threats don’t dampen atmosphere

HOLLIDAYSBURG – With a crowd one police officer estimated at thousands lining the streets for an annual Halloween Parade, Hollidaysburg on Saturday didn’t look like a town under bomb and water-supply threats.

Roughly 24 hours into a two-day advisory caused by a “vague threat” to the area’s tap water, authorities said tests have so far shown no danger. Officials at the Altoona Water Authority hope to lift the advisory at or before tonight’s evening deadline, General Manager Mark Perry said.

But on Saturday – normally one of the year’s busiest days for some Hollidaysburg restaurants – the recommendation to avoid tap water left eateries across the borough closed or scrambing for alternatives.

“Our coffee’s down, our espresso’s down. … We can’t offer any drinks,” said Kirk Saleme, owner of Allegheny Creamery and Crepes in downtown Hollidaysburg. Saleme closed his restaurant for the day.

“It’s usually our second biggest day of the year,” he said of the annual parade. “You get a lot of people from outside the area.”

Typed notes explained sudden closures at a few cafes and restaurants. At the recently opened Allegheny Street Coffee Company, a sign read, “Closed due to contamination warning,” while at The Dream Restaurant, employees’ Friday night purchase of 17 soda and water bottles seemingly wasn’t enough to prevent closed doors Saturday afternoon.

The Sheetz along Route 22 stopped serving coffee and fountain drinks for the day.

Other stores weathered the scare: At D’Ottavio Italian House on the downtown diamond, a sign read, “Bottled water inside,” while managers at the Allegheny Street Cigar Company noted on Facebook, “Shop open Saturday. … No water required.”

Department of Environmental Protection tests continued Saturday afternoon, with early tests showing no cause for concern, Perry said. Workers spent Saturday flushing the system in Hollidaysburg, Freedom Township and Blair Township, he said, in preparation for the reopening of threatened reservoirs.

“None of the tests have shown any contaminant,” Perry said. “I’d like to think it’ll happen sooner rather than later.”

The threat, sent in an email to the Altoona Mirror early Friday, included references to bombs mere days after an unfounded bomb threat drew police and firefighters from across the region to the Blair County Courthouse. The Wednesday evening bomb threat forced families from their homes and led some business owners, including Saleme, to close shop ahead of schedule.

At the crowded Halloween Parade on Saturday, police maintained a visible presence, but few people seemed concerned about the previous days’ threats.

“This is probably one of the biggest crowds in a while,” Hollidaysburg Police Officer Mark Lingafelt said as children in costumes waited for the parade to begin. “We’ve always had as many officers as possible out for this … It’s just our normal thing.”

Hollidaysburg firefighters said they planned to sell sought-after bottles water to the parade crowds.

Bottled water supplies, which ran low Friday night after authorities first issued the warning, were replenished at some stores by Saturday afternoon.

“At 7 o’clock [Friday], the story broke. By 8 o’clock, our shelves were empty,” said Tom DiCiurcio, manager at the Hometown Market along Church Street. Employees ordered seven more pallets soon afterward, he said.

There was far less demand for water Saturday, he said – a far cry from Friday evening, when customers at the Plank Road Walmart hurriedly filled shopping carts with cases and jugs for the coming weekend.

And with supplies limited and Hollidaysburg residents still in need of a Saturday-morning caffeine fix, a few businesses that planned ahead saw a minor rush.

“We were really busy this morning,” said Shelly Endendijk, assistant manager at Donut Connection, where employees had bought water en masse and loaded it into backup coffee makers. “We were the only ones around here that had coffee.”

Barring any new developments, water supplies should be restored this weekend and restaurants will be free to reopen, authorities said Saturday. A state police computer expert is set to investigate the threat emails Monday at the Mirror office.

That’s good news for Gianna Saleme, 7, sitting in the empty Allegheny Creamery and Crepes dining room Saturday.

“I was very scared. I couldn’t even sleep,” she said of the chaotic night at the courthouse. “But my mom said they’re going to arrest the person that did this.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.