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CNN Live Event/Special

America Strikes Back: Anthrax Attacks Spread This Week

Aired October 16, 2001 - 06:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: In Afghanistan the airstrikes go on and they have been fierce. The Taliban stronghold of Kandahar came under heavy attack and CNN was told warplanes targeted the compound of Taliban ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar.

More now on the biological threat that's spreading to more high profile targets in the United States. In just a few days the fear of anthrax has changed the way people in America handle mail. We have reports on the anthrax scare this morning from Florida, Washington and New York.

We'll begin with CNN's John Zarrella. He's in Boca Raton, Florida where the anthrax attack first surfaced.

Good morning John.


Well today will be a big day here in Boca Raton, Florida. Governor Jeb Bush is planning to make a visit here. We're not sure of exactly what time he will be down here. We understand from the "Palm Beach Post" this morning, which is reporting that the governor will go to the Emergency Operations Center. He will have an announcement there. He will talk to state, local and federal health workers at the same time.

We, of course, are tracking that and we'll try to confirm that. U.S. Representative Robert Wexler will also be here, supposedly also making an announcement after he meets with members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Now all of this is to kind of allay fears that have arisen here, and there's good reason for that. The second worker from American Media, Ernesto Blanco, who about nine days ago was confirmed to have had an expose to anthrax and he is a mailroom employee here.

It has been confirmed now that, in fact, he does have the anthrax disease. There is 73-year old Ernesto Blanco. It has always been widely reported that Blanco was a fairly close friend of Bob Stevens. Bob Stevens was the first victim of anthrax. He died over a week ago now. Mr. Stevens, of course, also worked at American Media.

Ernesto Blanco's tie to the mailroom is certainly interesting in that small, very minute particles of anthrax spores were found at the Boca Raton Post Office yesterday. There had been suspicion that there might be some spores there. All of the 31 -- some 31 postal workers there were checked, giving nasal swabs. They all came back negative, but the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, late yesterday went in and began to do what they considered a very modest job of cleanup.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a low risk here with the anthrax bacteria, and it appears that about a .5 percent of solution of sodium hydrochloride will do the job. It's like disinfection, like you have to, you know, clean up the mold in your bathroom. This is what we're doing. It's not supposed to be there and so we're going to get rid of it by using this bleach solution. It's just a mild bleach solution like you would buy at the store.


ZARRELLA: So again, very, very small minute amount of anthrax spores found at the Boca post office. The cleanup job apparently very, very easy to handle. Post office completely open. Now those spores were not found anywhere where the public would go, but actually in a sorting area considered to be about five by five is what we've been told -- about five foot by five foot.

So again, now still waiting on more test results here, environmental study results of about 78 samples that were taken from the American Media building a week ago. That work, of course, goes on in laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control. Later in the week, there will be more blood tests given to the 300 employees here to again make sure that no one else has been further exposed to anthrax.

This is John Zarrella reporting live from Boca Raton, Florida.

PHILLIPS: All right John, thank you so much. We'll check back in when you do have those results.


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well the anthrax attacks spread this week, first to the Washington office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and then to the headquarters of ABC in New York.

CNN's Michael Okwu checks in to tell us the latest victim in New York is a baby boy. But first more details of the letter mailed to Senator Daschle. Here's our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The incident turned Senator Daschle's personal office into a crime scene. Forty staffers initially quarantined inside for several hours. Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, all mail deliveries were halted and mail already delivered returned to be examined for hazardous material.

But the majority leader urged calm.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I will say that the antibiotic is so effected that it is 100 percent successful in killing the bacteria. Once that bacteria has been released and so we are supremely confident of our ability to deal with circumstances like this.

KARL: Daschle was not in the office when the letter was opened. Some but not all of the 40 people who were are being treated with antibiotics. So are several mailroom workers and police officers who were first called to the scene.

According to an FBI official familiar with the investigation, the letter was sent to Daschle's office on Friday and not opened until Monday morning. And like the suspected anthrax letter sent to NBC's Tom Brokaw, the Daschle letter had a postmark from Trenton, New Jersey.

The attack didn't come as a complete surprise on Capital Hill. Just five days earlier, the Senate Sergeant Arms sent out a lengthy memo to all Senate offices warning staff about recent threats and providing tips on identifying and handling suspicious packages and letters.

But the presence of anthrax in Daschle's office made an already jittery Capitol even more nervous. Senator Frank Murkowski reported to Capitol police a suspicious package in his office. He wasn't the only one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Envelope and we were advised at that time that we were the 12th on the list.

KARL: Capitol police spent much of the day chasing down suspicious packages, none of which have been reported to test positive for biological agents. Under the sign of the heightened state of alert, all public tours of the Capitol were suspended indefinitely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are taking every step and we will take additional steps as we become more aware of what can be done in a preventive way to deal with these circumstances in the future.

KARL: One of those steps is a new system for the Capitol's mailroom to help screen for biological agents.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Capitol Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ABC is the second network hit by the wave of anthrax cases. It's President David Westin said the victim is a seven-month old son of a news producer. The child was in the ABC offices two and a half weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We learned this evening that in fact the child in preliminary tests both blood and biopsy has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax. We do not know for sure that that was contracted through an exposure at ABC News, but we are operating on that assumption at the present time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The child is the only anthrax case reported at ABC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the child is responding well. The prognosis is excellent. We are, however, of course, taking this very seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This follows incidents of anthrax exposure at NBC News and a false alarm at "The New York Times" sent to this reporter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) bioterrorism, you don't necessarily have to kill a lot of people. You just have to spread terror and that's what whoever is doing this is trying to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a precaution, New York Police began conducting environmental surveys in the mailrooms at CNN and other major news organizations.

This week at CNN took place within an hour of the ABC announcement. The mayor reminded the city that anthrax is treatable with antibiotics and asked the city to remain calm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're talking about now two cases. We move in this city probably, I'm going to guess, 15 million pieces of mail per day, maybe more. So the reality is that there's a psychology here, and do not - don't fall into the psychology of this, which is that there's nothing to be afraid of in dealing with your mail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Okwu, CNN, New York.


PHILLIPS: And Michael mentioned the (INAUDIBLE) that happened there in the New York newsroom. Well as a precautionary measure, specialists from the Georgia National Guard did a biological sweep here in our newsroom also in Atlanta and so far results in the case, there is no cause for concern.

HARRIS: Now you want to stick with us this morning. We've got some guests that are going to come on and talk about anthrax. You don't want to miss. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is going to be up next hour to talk about the latest anthrax case in New York, that of that seven-month old boy.

And South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority Leader is also going to be with us and talk about the letter that came to his office and we'll talk and see whether or not he thinks that he was a target.