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Powder causes alarm at UHC

by Jim Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Law enforcement officials in Bridgeport, Clarksburg and Morgantown were busy Tuesday night investigating two separate instances in which suspicious packages or substances were found.

The first was a package found inside a shoe store at Meadowbrook Mall around 3:30 p.m., said Bridgeport Police Chief Jack Clayton.

The second was a white powdery substance found in an elevator at United Hospital Center shortly after 8 p.m., according to a dispatcher with Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services.

In both cases, police and fire personnel isolated the package or substance, evacuated the area and called the Monongalia County Hazardous Materials Team.

While the package at the mall forced the store to close, the rest of mall operations remained virtually unchanged. Shoppers still strolled the halls and only the presence of a single Bridgeport police officer at the store's entrance gave any indication of trouble.

At UHC, more drastic measures were required, said Clarksburg Fire Chief Joe Gonzalez. The elevator was sealed off and shut down, and the ventilation system was disabled, he said.

The substance was found by a staff member in an elevator in the 2-West building, which is not part of the main hospital but is connected to the emergency department. The building houses transitional care and pediatrics units, said hospital spokeswoman Suzanne Hornor.

In all, about 60 patients and staff members were in the building.

"In light of everything that's going on nationally, 911 was called and we shut down the elevator," Hornor said. "Patient care was not, and will not, be interrupted. There was no immediate danger."

Gonzalez said the Haz-Mat team decontaminated the area and everyone in that section of the building.

Hornor said UHC does not have facilities to test the substance. It will instead be taken to the West Virginia State Police crime lab in Charleston.

Management officials of the shoe store were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Tuesday's incidents brought to at least three the number of reports of suspicious packages or substances in the Clarksburg/Bridgeport area since Saturday.

Clayton said law enforcement officials are trying to establish a protocol to deal with these reports. He cautioned residents to use common sense when handling a suspicious item, but also not to panic.

"I think particularly in businesses and in homes, people probably have a good idea where something came from and what it is," he said. "If there is any doubt, I would urge people to contact their supervisor and try to determine the origin of a suspicious package. If no origin or explanation can be found, I think it's better to be cautious (and call police) than not."

Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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