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Package at Ranson post office contained cookies

'pop' was from light fixture

Building evacuated after reports that exploding package released white powder

November 04, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • People who were inside the U.S. Post Office in Ranson, W.Va., following a reported explosion Friday morning were quarantined on a school bus in a nearby parking lot for several hours until it was determined they were not exposed to chemical agents.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

RANSON, W.Va. — What was reported to authorities as an exploding package that sent white powder into the air at the Ranson post office Friday morning turned out to be a malfunctioning fluorescent light, Ronald Fletcher, a firefighter with Citizens Fire Co. said Friday.

The "pop" that employees heard at the post office at 205 Ambrose Drive was caused when a fluorescent light fixture malfunctioned, said Fletcher, who was the designated spokesperson at the scene. The package in a storage locker that employees thought exploded contained cookies.

Before that was determined nearly six hours after the call went out to Jefferson County Emergency Services, the post office was evacuated, 15 people were quarantined in a school bus at Ranson Square shopping center, traffic was restricted in the area and nearby residents were warned to stay indoors. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies sent personnel to the scene.

Despite the hubbub, postal authorities said the mail would be delivered Friday.

The white powder that postal employees thought they saw probably was smoke from the light fixture failing, and the "pop"  probably was associated with that same situation, Fletcher said.

Before the cause of the problem was determined, authorities sent a robot from the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department into the building to assess the scene.

No traces of a powdery substance were found, and no evidence of an explosion or a chemical agent was detected inside the post office, Fletcher said.

"The package was intact. We didn't have any explosions inside," Fletcher said.

The 12 people who were inside the post office at the time of the explosion, and three who came in afterward, were quarantined in a school bus in the shopping center and interviewed.

During the first few hours, authorities at the scene did not specify what type of substance they were checking for inside the post office. There have in the past been instances of anthrax being sent to post offices, as well as a number of false alarms involving benign substances.

The situation was upsetting for Christina Chapman of Kearneysville, W.Va., who said she was on the way to the post office to mail packages to her granddaughters in Missouri at around 9:45 a.m. when she saw the area was blocked.

"I found out what happened through Facebook on my phone," said Chapman, who works for the federal government.

Chapman, 41, said she began to cry when she found out what happened.

"I was just starting to feel comfortable again a decade after Sept. 11," she said. "This is my post office and I feel like I've lost a little bit of that sense of security that comes with living in a small town."

Ranson resident Renee Smith said she was on her way to work at Shear Image Haircuts in Ranson Square when she heard what happened.

"My boss called to say that there had been a package that exploded at the post office," she said. "I thought it was anthrax."

Smith made the trip to the area anyway and saw the area was roped off.

"I'm anxious to see if any of my customers show up today," she said. "It's very interesting. Things like this don't happen at home this close."

Postmaster Steve Parrill said about 20 people work in the Ranson post office.

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Herald-Mail Mobile Journalist Caleb Calhoun contributed to this story.

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