March 20, 2018 / 10:43 PM / a month ago

Serial bombings put Texas capital on edge

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - From double-checking delivered packages to watching their step when walking their dogs, Austin residents have been nervously changing daily habits since a series of mysterious bomb attacks hit the Texas city in recent weeks.

“There seems to be no rhyme or reason or pattern to the bombings, which makes it even more unnerving,” said Paula Bonick, 44, a senior business advisor for an Austin firm.

Because four of the five devices were parcel bombs, Bonick has asked her relatives to let her know if they are sending a package so that she is not caught off guard. The arrival of a FedEx or UPS truck at work instills both anxiety and empathy for the drivers.

Since March 12, when two parcel bombs exploded within hours of each other, Austin police have sent out frequent reminders in Spanish and English on social media to avoid suspicious packages and call authorities if they see one.

So far, they have responded to nearly 1,300 calls, 420 of which came between 8 a.m. on Monday and 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

Many residents were making sure home surveillance cameras worked properly after police asked for recordings in the neighbourhoods of the blasts for clues of the perpetrators.

People walking dogs were paying closer attention to their surroundings after two pedestrians set off a trip wire bomb on Sunday.

The Austin Independent School District said in a letter sent to school families on Monday, when students returned to classes from spring break, that staff would do perimeter checks of campuses for any suspicious items.

The city’s largest newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, posted an article on Tuesday giving advice to parents on how to speak to their children about the bombings.

The Japanese consulate in Houston has instructed its nationals to leave any area with suspicious people or objects immediately and then contact authorities.

None of the bombings have targeted a public venue and two of the blasts took place during the South by Southwest tech, movie and music festival, which attracts about a half million people to the city, at locations a few miles from the activity. Live music houses said crowds were still gathering while bars and restaurants were bustling with people.

At Radio Coffee and Beer, scores of people basked in the sun and dined on tacos on Tuesday at the south Austin venue a few miles from two blast sites.

“I’m not going to stop what I’m doing because of the bombings, but I am trying to be more aware of my surroundings,” said school worker Monica Marcelo, 32.

Others were more nervous. Michael Park, 41, a vice president of finance for a stormwater management developer, said the recent spate of bombs brought back memories of the 2002 sniper shootings that killed 10 people in Washington, where he used to live.

He has instructed his three kids not to pick up any packages delivered to his house until he verifies they were expected.

“The seeming randomness of these package bomb attacks brings back memories,” he said.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Sachi Jenkins; Editing by Richard Chang

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