Mood Across the Nation
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JIM LEHRER: Now, NewsHour correspondents sample how the anthrax scare is being felt around the country. We have three reports, beginning with Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: In Chicago, anthrax scares have kept emergency response teams scrambling. Fire trucks lined up outside Sears Tower for the fifth time in three days in response to another call of a powdery substance found in an envelope.
SPOKESMAN: We went from an average of five calls a day to fifty a day for the last four or five days, and it’s a significant spike.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Chicago added two new HAZMAT cars this week and started using these new masks that can screen out even the tiniest anthrax spores. Calls about suspicious powders came in from a microbiology lab and a teaching hospital, a university, and from both O’Hare and Midway Airports. When the fire department was called to investigate a green sticky substance on the street and it turned out to be guacamole, the mayor told the city it was time to relax.
MAYOR: Guacamole is not dangerous. I mean, people have to start calming down. I mean, you know, they have to start using some common sense.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The transit system was particularly hard-hit. Two subway stations were shut down for several hours during the morning rush hour.
SPOKESMAN: We’ve had a number of scares that have been reported with powdery substances. It turned out to be in one case, sugar; another case, baking soda that we use to remove graffiti from stations.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Calls come in and response teams are dispatched from the city’s 911 emergency center.
SPOKESMAN: They’ve been riding a circuit. They’ve been going from call to call. The HAZMAT team hits the street from the station. They go to the first call, and as soon as they’re finished with that one, they get a call to go to another one.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: No anthrax was found on any of the nearly 200 calls emergency responders made in Chicago this week.
LEE HOCHBERG: There have been no anthrax finds in the Pacific northwest, but Portland’s mayor is taking no chances.
MAYOR: Consider developing a shelter-in-place plan, currently recommended for some accidental releases of hazardous materials.
LEE HOCHBERG: At a press conference Friday, Mayor Vera Katz urged citizens to insulate their homes from biological and chemical attacks.
MAYOR VERA KATZ: Choose a room, preferably one in the interior of your house or your office that has the fewest windows and small door openings; cut plastic sheeting to put around the windows and around any of the vents and openings in that room.
LEE HOCHBERG: Some residents have taken the suggestion seriously. Employees at home improvement stores report increased interest in plastic sheeting.
SPOKESPERSON: So, 66 right here.
LEE HOCHBERG: Sara Bott works in the Mayor’s office, which was evacuated after a false anthrax scare. She says she wants to at least make her house as safe as possible.
SARA BOTT: If someone’s going to crash an airplane into a building near my office, there’s nothing I can do about it. This is something that I can do in my own house; I can make sure that I’m prepared to take care of myself. Air can still come in through this vent, so I’ve got the window covered, I’ve got the door covered, and this is the only other place where air is going to come in.
LEE HOCHBERG: The state office of emergency management says there is no specific biological or chemical threat either to Portland or the state of Oregon. But Bott says she can’t be too safe.
SARA BOTT: And it could mean the difference between life and death, and I would choose life.
LEE HOCHBERG: State officials say while it’s up to the mayor to make safety recommendations in Portland, there’s no reason to make similar ones statewide.
JEFFREY KAYE: In San Francisco, residents are also on edge because of the possibility of anthrax coming through the mail. This week, an envelope containing white power and addressed to San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown brought out hazardous-material teams. City hall was evacuated and the material was tested. It proved negative. Local public TV Station KQED got an odd-looking Federal Express package. Mailroom employees who are now using latex gloves isolated it and called the police.
SPOKESMAN: When you think it might be happening here, then it kind of brings it home, and I… Yeah, I feel concerned. I feel a little nervous about it.
JEFFREY KAYE: The package, when finally opened, contained advertising from a security company whose motto is "designing peace of mind." Many businesses and buildings have stepped up surveillance of mail and packages, though at this state facility, little has changed. Thousands of state workers were ordered to hastily arranged lectures by the California Highway Patrol on how to open the mail.
SGT. JONATHAN MOBLEY: You ought to know that the mail that comes in this facility is all prescreened before you even get to it. But of course, there’s not screening against this anthrax.
JEFFREY KAYE: Sergeant Jonathan Mobley told his audience what not to do.
SGT. JONATHAN MOBLEY: Maybe this is something good or… You know? ( Laughter ) you know, I’m just… But definitely step back, isolate this, and then let the people who know what they’re doing come out and do the investigation.
JEFFREY KAYE: Post offices report the anthrax scares have slowed the mails a little. But officials say only two anthrax cases nationwide have been connected to the mail.
SPOKESMAN: The Postal Service delivered more than 20 billion pieces of mail since this began. And of that 20 billion, unfortunately, two were tested positive for anthrax. But I think it kind of demonstrates that maybe it’s not as large a problem as some people think it is.
JEFFREY KAYE: Highway patrol officials caution Californians not to overreact to the threat. They point out California has never had a confirmed case of anthrax.