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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Anthrax Anxieties Sweep Media Outlets

Aired October 13, 2001 - 07:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: The anthrax investigation began in Florida, where a photo editor at a tabloid publishing company died of inhaled anthrax, and two other workers were exposed to the bacteria.

In the week that's followed, over 1,000 American Media employees and people who visited the building in Boca Raton have been tested for anthrax. One hundred FBI agents are working that case.

And CNN's John Zarrella says more investigators are being sent there today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A chain link fence went up around the perimeter of the American Media building in Boca Raton, Florida. On the front doors, signs warning of contamination. This further securing of the building as a crime scene came as federal law enforcement agents and investigators from the CDC updated the status of the investigation.

HECTOR PESCUERA, FBI: We have no information whatsoever that correlates what we've got here with what New York has there. And likewise, we have no information to indicate that this is a terrorist action.

ZARRELLA: Investigators said nearly all the 1,000 tests on AMI workers and others who had visited the office since August 1 are nearly completed, and so far, there are no additional cases of anthrax exposure. Federal investigators said the bacteria is confined to the three AMI employees, Bob Stevens, mail room workers Ernesto Blanco and Stephanie Dailey (ph), Stevens' computer keyboard, and a mail slot in the building's mail room.

An FBI microbiologist said it now appears this particular anthrax variety has not been modified by humans.

DOUGLAS BEECHER, FBI MICROBIOLOGIST: This organism shows no indication that there's been any genetic modification. It's completely susceptible to all of the antibiotics.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Modified bacteria could be far more dangerous. Eighty additional FBI agents will be here this weekend interviewing employees in hopes they can narrow the focus of the investigation. Because it now appears almost certain the mail was involved, a small number of postal employees have also been tested for anthrax exposure.

John Zarrella, CNN, Boca Raton, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Despite the reassurances from health officials that there is no cause for panic, the threat of anthrax cases has the nation on edge, and that's especially true for those who deliver the mail.

CNN's Sheilah Kast reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHEILAH KAST, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Letter carriers see themselves on the front line in the new worries about whether mail is being used to deliver biological weapons like anthrax.

UNIDENTIFIED LETTER CARRIER: Because we have to handle all of the mail, you know, they have packages, so it's not strange or anything. So yes, it's -- I'm very concerned.

KAST: Similar worries have played out before, as in April 1997, when the Washington, D.C., offices of B'nai B'rith were locked down for several hours because of a letter suspected of carrying anthrax.

JACK POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL: The fact of the matter is, on an annual basis, we receive over 80 anthrax threats. Police investigate each and every one of them.

KAST: And the conclusion in all those earlier threats, Postmaster General Jack Potter says...

POTTER: And we have never had anthrax moved through the mail.

KAST: With new threats, separate criminal investigations of anthrax cases in Florida and New York are looking at whether anthrax arrived by letter. Officials say they have ruled nothing out and take using the mails for such purposes very seriously.

KEN NEWMAN, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE: We will not tolerate, we will prosecute, anyone who looks at this as an opportunity to settle grudges or transmit hoaxes to try and intimidate our country.

KAST: The Postal Service moves 208 billion pieces of mail each year, most of it sorted and handled by machine. The closest thing to screening, the human touch, is usually at the end of the line, from the carrier who delivers the mail or the customer who receives it.

Postal inspectors say a piece of mail may be suspicious if it's something you're not expecting, from someone you don't know, or with no return address at all, or a return address that does not match the postmark. Also, a package that is very heavy for its size or lopsided or oddly shaped.

(on camera): If you're suspicious about a piece of mail, all the officials said, don't open it, shake it, or smell it. Get away from it and call your local police.

Sheilah Kast for CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Suspicious powder-like substances have been turning up in the mail in cities coast to coast. It's sparking fear and keeping emergency workers busy with false alarms.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR, DENVER, COLORADO: There was a situation in Parker this morning where four people were transported from the Parker post office to Swedish Medical Center, and evidently more employees from the post office are on their way to the hospital for evaluation after finding a powdery white substance in a letter-sized envelope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The woman received a blue envelope with the words "A gift for you." She opened it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN, COLUMBUS, OHIO: Now, there was a small tiny packet of powder in it, which she examined with her fingers, and she sniffed it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR, SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA: Here in California tonight, state mail room employees are on special alert, learning what to watch out for, while a powdery substance has been found on a desk and has forced the evacuation of a Sacramento business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: A copy editor on the fourth floor opened a card, and white powder spilled out. A firefighter masked up to go in.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: HazMat was on the way here. After the evaluation, it was determined they weren't needed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR, MIAMI, FLORIDA: Just yesterday in Pember Pines (ph), a suspicious powder at the post office branch, sending fire rescue scrambling. It turned out to be a false alarm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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