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April 20. 2013 2:59AM

Boston violence puts commuters on hold

The message was clear: "Avoid Boston Area."

That was the stern warning that flashed across electronic signs posted along New Hampshire highways Friday as the city of Boston and several nearby Massachusetts communities were ordered into a lockdown.

With the unprecedented manhunt for the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect under way throughout the day, traveling into the city and trying to reach other Bay State destinations wasn't easy.

The MBTA's public transit was shut down, including commuter rail and Amtrak's Downeaster train between Portland, Maine, and Boston.

But by 6 p.m., Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick had announced that the lockdown order was being lifted and that the MBTA would resume service immediately with the exception of commuter rail, which was expected to reopen today.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation announced a short time later that all travel restrictions to Boston were being lifted even though the suspected bomber, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, of Cambridge, Mass., was still on the loose at the time the order was lifted.

The daylong lockdown created big headaches for Concord Coach Lines, C & J, a commuter bus service headquartered in Portsmouth, and Concord-based Boston Express, all of which were forced to cancel service to Boston's South Station after the terminal shut down.

The bus companies continued to operate their regular service to Logan International Airport.

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport operated as usual, said Deputy Director J. Brian O'Neil, who said the airport has no flights to Logan.

George Prevost, a driver for Boston Express, which travels between Boston and Nashua, said he has never seen Boston like it was on Friday.

"The streets are empty, it's like a ghost town. The only people on the streets are the thousands of police, there are police on every corner and many are carrying assault rifles. I have never seen Boston like that before in my life," Prevost said.

Fellow bus driver Lance Ouellette said his trip to Boston was suspended, but that the bombings have already changed how he thinks. Both Prevost and Ouellette said that when they load luggage into the bus now, they have second thoughts in the back of their mind as to what those suitcases contain.

"I hope bombings like this don't become normal," Prevost said.

Roxanne Leming of Indiana was in Nashua for business, but with train service out of Boston suspended, she feared that she would be stranded in New Hampshire.

"And I only have enough money for the train, I didn't bring any extra for a hotel or anything," Leming said.

Despite the bombings, Kim and Tony Carrozza of Nashua said they were undaunted by traveling to Logan Airport while the manhunt was still active.

"We've been, for some strange reason, in places traveling where these kind of things have happened before. We were in London during the subway bombings, and we flew on a replacement flight out of Newark right after 9/11," Kim said.

After being so close to terrorism so many times, Tony said, "We are used to this."

Meanwhile, passengers aboard Amtrak's Downeaster passenger train spent their Friday morning stuck in Exeter after commuter rail service to Boston was shut down.

Many of the passengers boarded the train in Portland, Maine, and were headed to Boston for work or a day of family fun when they learned of the dangerous manhunt under way in Boston and surrounding communities.

Passengers said the train arrived in Exeter around 7 a.m. but headed back to Portland after Downeaster service was suspended south of Exeter throughout the day.

Jana Richardson, her husband, brother and kids boarded the Downeaster in Portland and planned to take a trolley tour in Boston and enjoy the city.

"We weren't afraid to go until this new stuff started happening. I felt more safe going until now," she said.

Genevieve Howe lives in Portland and is a Spanish language interpreter who works in the court system and was on her way to a courthouse in downtown Boston when she became stranded in Exeter.

While on her way to the city she received a message informing her that the courts were being told to "shelter in place."

"They're taking it very seriously," she said.

Wearing their Boston Red Sox shirts, Buckfield, Maine, residents Tim and Kristina Bernard and their two daughters, Ella, 3, and Kailie, 9, didn't know anything about the trouble in Massachusetts when they hopped on the train in Portland. It's school vacation week in Maine and they figured they'd take their kids on their first train ride to Boston.

"At least they got a train ride," Kristina said.

With the train suspended in Exeter, the Bernards tried to make the best of the situation by getting off the train and taking their kids to a nearby school playground. However, they didn't know that it wasn't school vacation week in New Hampshire.

While the family had been looking forward to their trip, Kailie didn't mind turning back and heading home.

"Mommy, I like country more than city," she told her mother as they sat on a bench outside the Exeter train station.

jschreiber@newstote.com; bklein@newstote.com


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