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Concourse B Cleared Because of Powdery Substance

Aired August 21, 2002 - 11:08   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Our Mark Potter, a correspondent who is based in Miami, is checking in right now.
Mark, I understand are you in a car on the way to the airport right now?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Leon, and a moment ago I spoke with Sergeant Ed Mund (ph) of the Miami-Dade Police Department, who said that his understanding is that there was some sort of a chemical spill at the airport, at the concourse B area, the fumes got into air-conditioning ventilation system, and some people in the area said that they noticed an odor, others experienced symptoms of sore throat, coughing, watery eyes, and so the concourse was shut down until fire officials, hazardous materials specialists could get in there to take a look, search through the ventilation systems, find out what's going on.

There are some conflicting reports here. We heard earlier from fire officials a report about a white powder and a bag, and a passenger having problems at the security areas. The sergeant said that that report to his knowledge is inaccurate, that it's a problem with some sort of chemical spill that got into the ventilation system.

This is the working story, but that is the latest we are hearing right now. The Miami-Dade Police Department has jurisdiction over the airport, and Sergeant Mund (ph) said that he talked to somebody there just a moment ago, and that's what they're hear.

HARRIS: That actually makes a lot more sense, Mark, because when we were hearing this report about a white powder going through security, it would seem to me that that's the kind of thing that would never happen. I mean, there is no way that security would allow some sort of a powder to go through. I have never seen them allow that sort of thing to go through at an airport least since last year. That is very interesting.

Mark, did they saying in about what kind of chemical they think it may be?

POTTER: No, he doesn't know, and that's why they said that the people in the hazardous materials suits. We saw them on tape a short while -- or in our live pictures a short while ago, but they don't know what it is. That's why they closed down the concourse to make sure that everything is okay. Right now, they just don't know.

But again, it appears, according to the police that this story about the powder may not be correct. You know how these things happen at the onset of a story.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Mark his sources coming from the Miami-Dade Police Department. Mark, now you had pointed out that the other source of information about this powdery substance was coming from a fire official.

And we have on the telephone with us Sherry Holbert, who is the public information officer of the Miami-Dade Fire Department. And, Sherry, if you can hear me OK, you understand now the conflicting reports we are getting. Miami-Dade police are saying that it was a chemical spill getting into the air-conditioning and the ventilation system. One other firefighter at least -- or fire official has said that instead a powdery substance. What are you officially saying now from the fire department?

SHERRY HOLBERT, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPT.: The call originally came in as what we call a 1418 (ph) call, which was something that was created after September 11th and after some of the anthrax scares, and just because one person mentioned when talking to the 9/11 call taker that possibly there was a white substance, a white powder. That's how it came in.

But the call came in as somebody with difficulty breathing at the security checkpoint in concourse B at the Miami International Airport.

WHITFIELD: What do you know about that caller?

HOLBERT: I know nothing about the caller. I know nothing about -- and we never do.


HOLBERT: We do know that we sent our hazmat team there, because wherever you have a situation of somebody that does not have a prior history of -- a patient does not seem to have based on the medical dispatch calls that have come in, the -- that they don't exhibit these symptoms normally, and it seemed like it happened -- based on what the caller says, they would automatically send it out as a hazmat...

So the hazmat unit came. When the unit arrived, seven more patients made themselves apparent to them. Other people were exhibiting symptoms. I don't know have any information on exactly what those symptoms were. Our units are still there on the scene, and they will probably be there for a while, and there is all sorts of instruments they use to determine what is in the air.

WHITFIELD: Let's talk about that. We can see in our live picture provided by our affiliate WFOR, that those fire officials as part of the hazmat unit are wearing protective suits and wearing gloves. What is the apparatus that they might use to help detect what is in the air, and what are you hearing from them on the ground as to what they are ascertaining thus far?

HOLBERT: Right now, what we are hearing from them is just your typical radio talk about their location, and about some of the things that they are doing. You are not going to hear too many details. So we don't really have that. They put on those suits just as a precaution. If it is determined that people have come in contact with some sort of a substance, there are different decon measures, decontamination measures that are taken, and I think it's still too early to discuss that.

WHITFIELD: All right, Sherry Holbert, with public information at the Miami-Dade fire department, thank you very much for joining us on the telephone.

HOLBERT: You are very welcome.




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