Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Mink, Abercrombie
coming home

U.S. House offices are shut
down over anthrax concerns

Star-Bulletin and wire reports

While U.S. House of Representatives offices are closed through Monday for an anthrax sweep, Hawaii's two members will take their work home with them.

Rep. Patsy Mink said "I'll probably come home, back to Hawaii," she said.

Mink said that she was not worried about the possibility of House members or staff contracting anthrax.

"I think the situation in the Senate is somewhat grave for the workers affected," she said. "What is happening on our side is just a precautionary measure."

A spokesman for Rep. Neil Abercrombie said that the congressman also will return to Hawaii this weekend.

Sen. Daniel Inouye said the anthrax scares would not paralyze his office's operations.

"On Thursday and Friday the building will be technically closed to the public to conduct and environmental survey, however, I and necessary staff will be working in the building," he said.

"The situation is under control."

Congressional leaders ordered an unprecedented shutdown of the House today after more than two dozen people in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office tested positive for exposure to a highly concentrated form of anthrax.

"We will not let this stop the work of the Senate," Daschle said at a news conference outside the Capitol. He said 31 people have had "positive nasal swabs," including two Capitol police officers.

Despite the vow to remain open, officials said all three of the Senate's office buildings would be shut down tomorrow and Friday for testing.

Daschle made his announcement a short while after Speaker Dennis Hastert said that anthrax had been found in the Senate's mailroom.

"To ensure safety we thought it best to do a complete sweep, an environmental sweep," he said, adding that House members and staff would be sent home at day's end, until at least Tuesday.

Three government officials said today there was no evidence of any foreign or terrorist involvement although they continue to investigate the possibility. One official said there was evidence that could point toward a domestic culprit.

On a day of rapidly unfolding events, Hastert also told reporters that a suspicious package had been removed from his suite of staff offices on the fourth floor of the Capitol and was being tested for anthrax.

In addition, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., announced that two of his aides had tested positive for exposure to anthrax. Feingold's office is adjacent to Daschle's suite in the Hart Senate Office Building. It was not known whether the aides had entered Daschle's suite.

Five weeks after terrorist strikes killed thousands in New York and Washington, there was cause for bioterrorism concern elsewhere around the country. In New York, Gov. George Pataki announced that a test conducted in his midtown Manhattan office showed the presence of anthrax. Officials said the suite of offices had been closed for further testing and decontamination.

Pataki said one test did indicate "the probability of anthrax," adding that "the odds are very high" that subsequent testing will confirm the presence of anthrax.

Outside of Washington, four people are known to have contracted anthrax and nine others have tested positive for the bacteria.

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