Tags: Senate | Building | Closed | Ricin | Reopens

Senate Building Closed by Ricin Reopens

Thursday, 05 February 2004 12:00 AM

The Russell Senate Office Building, the oldest and closest to the U.S. Capitol of the three Senate office buildings, reopened shortly after noon. Hill staffers waited in lines dozens deep in the winter chill to get back to work.

Many in line said they weren't concerned about safety, but a few were. "I am a little bit worried, but I have to work, and I trust security and the Capitol police. They know what they are doing," said Jeff Morris, who works for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Senators also were eager to get back, after two days crowded into small Capitol offices and space borrowed from their House colleagues. Many of them have been working off Blackberry wireless communicators, home e-mail and cell phones since they didn't have access to their office files and computers.

"I'm anxious to get back to work, because it's been so disorienting being out of my office," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who has a first-floor office in the reopened building but has been working out of a Capitol office since Monday.

Officials said Thursday they still didn't know how ricin arrived in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

A thorough search of Frist's mailroom turned up no additional traces of ricin and no threatening letters or messages, two days after a powdery form of the deadly toxin was found in Frist's suite in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

All Senate office buildings might reopen before the end of the week, Senate Democrat leader Tom Daschle said Thursday.

Daschle's office was targeted by an anthrax letter in 2001. He said that experience helped officials cope with the ricin threat.

"Because we had the screens in place, the filters, because we have a regimen in place now to deal with potential victims, because we've got an infrastructure in place, we're so much better at handling this," he said. "That isn't to say it wasn't a major logistical challenge, but I think we've come a long way."

Frist and other officials said Wednesday they did not know who sent the ricin, why or how.

"It's a terrorist attack on my life," Frist told reporters. He said "we have no earthly idea" if it was from an international terrorist group.

Frist said he assumed the lethal poison came in the mail because the powder was found on the tray of a machine his aides use to cut open stacks of envelopes.

U.S. Capitol police chief Terrance Gainer said officials had collected most of the material they wanted from Frist's office for their criminal investigation. He said no one had claimed blame for the attack.

Gainer said he knew of no links with ricin-laden letters found last fall in mail facilities serving the White House and the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina.

But, "We are examining anything ricin-related."

The FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency and 100 Marines from the corps' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force were involved in the investigation, the cleanup and collecting all mail from all congressional offices as a precaution.

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The Russell Senate Office Building, the oldest and closest to the U.S. Capitol of the three Senate office buildings, reopened shortly after noon. Hill staffers waited in lines dozens deep in the winter chill to get back to work. Many in line said they weren't concerned...
Senate,Building,Closed,Ricin,Reopens
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2004-00-05
Thursday, 05 February 2004 12:00 AM
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