Anthrax Scare Spurs
Major Downtown
Wichita Evacaution
By Scott Rothschild
From The Wichita Eagle
Authorities are still trying to determine what was spread in a downtown Wichita office building and who put it there.
Hazardous material crewmen from McConnell Air Force Base entered a decontamination tent set up on Market Street after an unknown white powder was found in the State Office building.
Several hundred workers were evacuated and a four-block square area of downtown was blocked off Tuesday after a suspicious white powder was found in the Finney State Office Building.
Federal and local investigators worked into the night trying to identify the substance and locate the person who put it there. Larry McCormick, who supervises FBI offices in Kansas and western Missouri, said at a late evening news conference that the building would be closed today while the investigation continues. "No one will go back into the building until we determine it's safe," he said. "We are treating this matter very seriously."
Preliminary field tests indicate no hazardous material was present in the building, McCormick said. Further results will be released this morning, he added. Many employees said a note found in the building, at the corner of Market and William, said the powder was the infectious disease anthrax. Law authorities said they did not know what the substance was, and refused to confirm or deny a threat had been made or whether it was a hoax.
Anthrax is a disease of cattle and sheep that can be transmitted to man; it is used in biological weapons and is one of the most deadly biological agents ever known. A handful of people who came in contact with the substance were decontaminated in a special tent set up in the middle of Market Street by the McConnell Air Force Base Fire Department.
William Seck, who is in charge of the Wichita FBI office, said officials were taking every possible precaution. "No immediate danger to the public health is noted,'' Seck said.
Officials said that no one who was in the building experienced any symptoms of exposure to a hazardous substance. The FBI got involved because federal law gives them authority over crimes involving weapons of mass destruction, Seck said. Authorities said they didn't know how the substance got in the building.
Hundreds of people were evacuated around 11 a.m. when the substance was found spread on several floors in the office building and the elevators.
But authorities also kept nearly 200 employees in the building, who said they may have been exposed. Around 4 p.m., most of them were allowed to leave, but instructed to shower and put their clothes in a plastic bag when they returned home. They were also told that if they developed any symptoms of illness to contact authorities.
Building Evacuated Because Of White Powder 8-18-98
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) A state office building was evacuated Tuesday when an envelope containing a powdery white substance described in an accompanying note as anthrax was found in a stairwell.
Twenty to 25 people may have been exposed to the powder found in the envelope and on control panels in three elevators at the Finney State Office Building, said FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza in Kansas City, Mo.
The FBI said it is not known what was really in the envelope and that the material was being sent to Washington to be examined. Results of lab tests probably would not be known before Wednesday and that no demands were made in the note, Lanza said.
Anthrax, a disease normally associated with animals such as sheep or goats, can be used as a weapon when spores are released into the air and people inhale them. It is almost always fatal if inhaled.
"The people that have been exposed to the substance are receiving medical attention, although no one has reported any symptoms consistent with exposure,'' Lanza said. "We're taking it very seriously.''
Mike Maddox, a fire department battalion chief, said about 15 people were showered down at the site as a precaution. About 200 people were evacuated and the building remained closed pending an FBI investigation.
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