Ft. Rucker hospital sealed off after threat

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 19, 2001

Staff Writer

The national anthrax scare made news closer to home when Fort Rucker reported a possible threat.

An employee of Lyster U.S. Army Medical Center said around 10:30 a.m., a white substance started coming out of a hospital air vent. That combined with the arrival of a mysterious package with no return address forced military personnel to seal off the hospital with barrier tape.

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The substance was found to be chalk dust and at approximately 2 p.m., employees were given the "all clear" and were permitted to return to the hospital.

Since Sept. 11, security has been tight at Ft. Rucker and was tightened even more Thursday.

Ft. Rucker officials reported a total of five calls about suspicious substances and packages at various locations on the Army base.

Hazardous materials teams responded and determined each incident involved non-toxic materials.

Fear of the unknown has many asking questions about anthrax, which has suddenly become a word said in every household.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said he’s received several calls from citizens, wondering what they are supposed to be looking for in possible contaminated mail.

"I’ve had several people voice concern about suspicious mail," Thomas said.

Because of those calls, Thomas wants to offer some suggestions regarding spotting suspicious packages and dealing with exposure to chemicals.

According to Thomas the United States Postal Service has not confirmed any case of the United States mail being used to transmit hazardous biological or chemical weapons. However, the USPS is still urging people to be cautious during this time of terrorist activity.

The USPS said mail should be considered suspicious if it:

· Is unexpected or from an unfamiliar source.

· Is addressed to someone no longer with the organization or any information is outdated.

· Has no return address or the address can not be identified.

· Is oddly shaped or has an unusual shape for its size.

· Is marked with such restrictive notations as "Personal" or "Confidential."

· Has protruding wires, a strange odor or stains.

· Has a postmark that does not match the return address.

Anyone who receives a suspicious package should not open it, isolate it, evacuate the immediate area, call the police department or sheriff’s office and file a report with the postal inspector. If contact has been made with the package of envelope, those who have handled it should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. A list of all who handled the mail should be made for the authorities.

Inspectors will seize the questionable package, assess the situation and coordinate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if necessary