Americans in fear of conflict rush to stockpile guns, water and tinned groceries

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Sales of guns and ammunition have soared in the United States since last week's terrorist attacks as Americans arm themselves for a potential conflict. Sales of tinned groceries, water and other essentials have also risen sharply, with consumers stockpiling in case of later shortages.

Some stores have been reporting a 70 per cent increase in gun sales though many shopkeepers say customers are arming themselves for possible local disturbances rather than an overseas threat. The giant Wal-Mart retail group said it had seen a substantial increase in sales of gas cylinders, batteries, bottled water, candles, matches, television sets, flags and ribbons. The chain sold 116,000 American flags last Tuesday alone.

Public transport has experienced a massive increase in traffic, with business travellers and the public travelling by rail or bus rather than by aircraft. Amtrak, the state-owned rail operator, saw a 36 per cent increase in passengers in the days after the attacks. The number of people using Greyhound buses doubled. Amtrak is planning to increase the number of high-speed trains between Boston and Washington from six to eight and then to 10 by the end of the year.

But there are concerns that the creaking Amtrak rail network will struggle to cope if the rising demand turns out to be permanent. There have even been safety concerns regarding a system that for decades has been underfunded.

Interest in using corporate jets has also been rising as wealthier travellers seek an alternative to scheduled aircraft. Though manufacturers such as Cessna and Falcon say it is too early to determine an increase in orders for aircraft that can cost $5m (about £3.5m), companies specialising in leasing executive jets have seen soaring demand.

Citation Shares, which offers "part-ownership" of executive jets, says it has seen a 25 per cent increase in inquiries since last week's events. It says the attraction is greater flexibility as well as better security.

"There's nobody in the plane that you don't know or have authorised to be there," a spokeswoman said. The company offers a one-sixteenth share in a jet for prices starting from $295,000 (£200,000) for 50 hours a year plus a $3,700 monthly management fee and a $995 charge for every hour flown.

NetJets, a similar company, also said it had seen demand increase. But it described the increase as "an uptick" rather than a substantial rise. Other companies have had to add extra shifts at their call centres to handle increased inquiry levels, which have risen by 50 per cent in some cases.

Many industry experts said manufacturers and leasing companies might be playing down talk of increases in demand because profiting from last week's events could appear inappropriate.