The picturesque market town of Rothbury in Northumberland is at the centre of the dramatic hunt for suspected gunman Raoul Moat.
Officers have switched their search for Moat from suburban Newcastle to rural Northumberland.
He is being hunted in connection with the shooting of his former girlfriend, her new partner and a police officer.
Eyewitnesses have said the usually quiet, peaceful market town had police "swarming" on it for a number of hours.
A two-mile exclusion zone was set up around the town by police after the black Lexus car he was reportedly driving was found.
The main route in, along a scenic road from the A1, was shut for many hours. Traffic only started being allowed back in at about 1700 BST.
A silence has fallen on the small community, with only the sound of helicopters and the occasional police siren, acting as a reminder that Rothbury is being watched closely by the media.
Officers using police dogs, stormed a disused farmhouse in the rural town.
Armed police have been standing guard outside Dr Thomlinson Church of England Middle School, which is about a mile from the farm building.
The children were kept there for several hours but Maria Adamson was allowed to collect her 11-year-old daughter at about 1600 BST.
She said: "It's all been quite scary really.
"Everybody seems to be OK at the moment, parents are going in one-by-one. It has been a safe environment for the children.
"We've seen lots of armed police and white vans, and we can see the police helicopter but we've still no idea what's going on."
Motorists flagged down drivers heading into the "deserted" town and warned: "The gunman's in Rothbury."
Cars leaving Rothbury have been stopped and searched by armed officers.
Bill Brown, who owns the Queens Head Hotel, said: "There is a helicopter hovering overhead and a number of police vans around.
"But there's nothing going on in the village itself - it seems to be over the Cragside estate."
Despite the drama, Cragside House, a National Trust property, was still open for business during the operation, a spokesman for the trust said.
Armed officers have been patrolling fields in the area, as cattle and sheep graze on.
David Phillips, who runs a newsagent, said he had customers locked in his shop and that the streets of Rothbury were deserted.
He said: "I think we're all quite concerned but it's reassuring when we see so many police cars in the area."