Anthrax Scares Put Coast Authorities On Alert

As soon as the circuit clerk noticed the powder on her typewriter, she called one of the Harrison County sheriff's deputies stationed at the courthouse. He immediately called Biloxi firefighters, and told them about a possible anthrax incident. Firemen from Biloxi's central fire station rushed to the scene.

At just after 11:30, two Biloxi firefighters put on hazardous materials suits and prepared to enter a courthouse that could have anthrax in it. "You just do your job," one fireman said. "This is what we get paid to do."

While the two firemen put on their protective suits, police sealed off all courthouse entrances, so nobody could walk in and nobody could walk out. Chief David Roberts said that was important because "I didn't know who was in the building, or how many people." And that information would be important, if the scare turned out to be real.

The uncertainty inside and outside the courthouse forced firefighters to prepare for the worst. "You've got to," one of the firemen said. "I mean you've got to get to the bottom of what it is. But I mean, you don't think about the danger. It's just what we do."

John Burra lives in Biloxi. When he heard about the remote possibility that anthrax was inside the courthouse, he grabbed his camera, and took pictures of the area. Burra said, "I never thought anything like this would hit Biloxi, or even come close to it."

By 1:00, people trapped inside the courthouse were allowed to leave. Hazmat crews took the typewriter out of the circuit clerk's office, and sent it to the state health department so tests could determine if it had anthrax on it.

According to Chief David Roberts, "What we've done is collected it, sealed it, cleaned up the area. And we're sending it off to be tested. It's very low probability of being anything. But we're going to make sure by having it tested."

Biloxi authorities expect the health department to release test results in the next day or so.

By the way, everybody inside the courthouse at the time of the anthrax scare had to leave their names with the sheriff's department. That way, if anthrax is found on the typewriter, authorities will know who to contact and treat.