Suspicious white powder forces evacuation in Columbia
Dec 30, 2009 06:50 PM CST
COLUMBIA, Tenn. – A portion of the downtown square in Columbia was shutdown for several hours Wednesday after an unknown white powder was found in a letter delivered to a local law office.
A bankruptcy attorney discovered the substance at about 11:30 a.m. and officials thought it may have gone into the ventilation system.
Hazardous material crews were called to the scene and officials removed the letter and envelope in sealed bags.
Even the outside of the bags were scrubbed as a precaution.
Mark Blackwood, Director of Maury County's Emergency Management Agency, said officials were "going way above minimum."
He told News 2, "Taking all precautions until we can identify the product, we are going through our protocols for hazardous material."
The people who were inside the building were quarantined for several hours and then moved to a bus.
Officials also set up tents to spray down those who may have been exposed to harmful chemicals.
Chuck Killion owns the coffee shop next door to the law office said he was happy to see the response by emergency personnel.
"Some people would call it overkill but I am glad they take things like this serious cause if it is serious it is taken care of," he said.
The Maury County hazmat team was not able to identify the substance and requested assistance from the National Guard 45th Civil Support Team, who specializes in hazardous chemicals.
In recent years, Maury County said it has taken steps to train personnel and buy equipment to be able to respond to such situations.
"We have been very fortunate to get federal grants, well over $1 million worth, and today these guys are out here, Maury County fireman, city of Columbia fireman, have taken a lot to hazmat training and they are handling the incident on the scene without having to wait for people to come from Nashville or Memphis," explained Columbia Mayor James Bailey.
He said the entire county works together in order to protect its residents.
The all clear was given around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Further tests will have to be done to determine exactly what the substance is.