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.