Suspicious powder sparks evacuation

Authorities investigate after letter containing white substance sent to governor's office

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Authorities evacuated a state office building at 240 Main St. in downtown Juneau on Tuesday evening, after a clerk in the third-floor mail room opened a letter addressed to the governor's office containing white powder.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Authorities responded early in the afternoon to the Court Plaza Building, also known as the Spam Can. The third floor was cleared, its occupants screened and then released, said Chief Eric Mohrmann of Capital City Fire and Rescue. The evacuation and lockdown of the entire building was complete around 5:15 p.m.

A two-person team dressed out in hazardous materials suits were on the scene, and two wore the suits to "decontaminate" three people, Mohrmann said. More than 120 people work in the building.

Division Chief Richard Etheridge of the fire department said no one showed any unusual symptoms or required medical attention. Signs posted on the entrances stated that the building was expected to reopen at 10 a.m. today.

Officials on the scene declined to speculate on the possibility of a hoax. FBI agent Ryan Butler, who works out of the Juneau Federal Building and was one of the first authorities on the scene, deferred questions to the bureau's office in Anchorage but did say authorities must err on the side of caution.

Hazardous materials specialists with the National Guard were inbound from Anchorage to identify the substance, Mohrmann said.

The FBI was not immediately certain if the incident was connected to letters sent to seven other governors in the lower 48 states on Monday. Testing on those showed the powder was not dangerous.

However, the agency is investigating since there is a "strong similarity of timing," said Eric Gonzalez, an FBI spokesman in Anchorage.

Governors of Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana and Rhode Island also had letters with white powder sent to them this week. All bore a Dallas postmark. Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Gov. Sarah Palin, said the letter received in Juneau had a Texas postmark, but couldn't say whether it also came from Dallas.

The envelope was addressed to Palin's predecessor, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, who left office two years ago.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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