Smelly, suspicious package forces post office closure

A suspicious mail parcel led to a quarantine of the Hood River Post Office for more than three hours on Friday afternoon.

Although HAZMAT specialists from Gresham found the package to contain only a dead trout, City Police Chief Tony Dirks said what appeared to have been intended as a private prank ended up costing the public thousands of dollars.

“Two years ago we would have just cut the package open and found the fish but after Sept. 11 we learned to take extra precautions because the ramifications could be devastating,” Dirks said.

Hood River Postal Supervisor Mike Winder said with the shutdown of business from 2-5 p.m., the post office lost about $2,500 in retail sales alone. He said that since outgoing mail was delayed until Saturday, the effect on other area businesses was unknown.

Dirks said both the city police and fire departments incurred overtime costs to bring in additional personnel for coverage. In addition, he said the state will pick up the expensive tab for HAZMAT team services.

“We had to take extra measures with this situation because in this day and age we didn’t know what the substance could have been,” said Hood River Fire Marshal Devon Wells.

Following new heightened security procedures, Winder called city police about 2 p.m., immediately after workers noticed a “smelly and bloody” liquid oozing out of a package. The fluid had seeped onto other correspondence.

The parcel is believed to have been dropped off at the downtown post office between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

“There’s always the potential for anything to go through the mail and this was definitely a suspicious article,” said Winder, who admits the possibility of biological contamination loomed largely in his mind as he donned protective gloves.

Since there was no return address on the parcel, which was addressed to a Corvallis resident, police immediately cordoned off the premises and called the Hood River Fire Department. The five staffers on the premises were directed to remain inside until the HAZMAT team cleared them to leave. The 12 outside mail carriers were then asked to park their vehicles across the street and were prevented from delivering their collections inside.

Winder said the postal heaquarters in Denver then called to inquire about the problem and alerted postal inspectors about the situation.

“Something this serious gets a quick response all the way up the line,” he said.

Dirks said the intended recipient in Corvallis was alerted about the contents of the parcel. He said the wrapper was saved and an investigation into the incident is underway.

About 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 6, the HAZMAT team had finished decontaminating the affected mail and finally allowed the postal workers to go home.

Winder said in 30 years of experience with the U.S. Postal Serivce he has never dealt with such a “strange” situation. However, he acknowledged that times have changed with the emerging possibility that terrorists could use chemical or biological warfare against American citizens.

“That thought just shot right to the top of my mind,” he said.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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