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cleaning out the capitol

Worker walks past boxes of biohazard suits left on Capitol Hill.
AP
Investigators said they have discovered anthrax in a new location in the Hart Senate office building Wednesday evening, even as another Senate building became the first to reopen since a letter contaminated with the bacteria was discovered last week on Capitol Hill.

Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said anthrax was found on a first-floor freight elevator bank in the Hart building's southwest quadrant. The anthrax-laden letter was opened in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., which is on the fifth and sixth floors of that same building but in its southeast quadrant.

Nichols said investigators would be trying to determine how the anthrax reached the elevator bank. The Hart building and all other congressional office buildings have been closed since the evening of Oct. 17.

Though Congress' five other office buildings remained closed, wary workers were allowed back into the Russell Senate office building across the street from the Capitol on Wednesday morning. The building houses the offices of 36 of the Senate's 100 members.

With public concern and criticism growing about the government's response to the anthrax attacks, the White House struggled Wednesday to reassure the American people that the nation's mail delivery system was safe.

In an exclusive interview with CBS News Anchor Dan Rather, Tom Ridge, the new Director of Homeland Security, said the Bush administration feels the public health community has done an "exceptional job" handling the anthrax threat.

"The public health community, we believe, has saved hundreds if not thousands of lives," Ridge said. "We're learning as we go along. One of these challenges is non-state terrorism and one of the challenges within that effort is dealing with this anthrax delivery through the mail system."

Earlier Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer insisted that mail delivered to American homes "is overwhelmingly safe."

He was responding to Postmaster General John Potter's earlier remark that there was no guarantee that mail is safe amid the current anthrax scare.

"There are still some practical tips that Americans should follow," Ridge told CBS News. "Be alert, be on guard, be cautious. And if you follow those tips you can feel secure that if you do your job and the post office does their job we hold the possibility of exposure to a minimum."

Responding to critics of the way the threat to postal workers was addressed in the early stages of the Washington attack, Ridge said "I'm 1,000 percent convinced they weren't looking at the color of the shirts, whether it is white or blue, they were looking at the medical challenge.

"It wasn't until a couple weeks ago that the public health delivery system had to think about the 21st century challenge of anthrax delivery."

Washington's chief medical officer Dr. Ivan Walks told reporters Wednesday officials were following 11 cases deemed suspicious for anthrax, all linked to a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle that made its way through mail facilities from Trenton N.J., to Capitol Hill.

A suspected second case of skin anthrax was reported Wednesday at the New York Post. If confirmed, it would be the city's fifth anthrax case, all involving news outlets.

With the demand for anti-anthrax drugs growing, the federal government and Bayer Corp. reached an agreement Wednesday on cutting the price of the antibiotic Cipro. Bayer agreed to sell the government 100 million pills at 95 cents each, a savings of $82 million dollars from the company's original price.

"This agreement means that a much larger supply of this important pharmaceutical product will be available if needed," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a statement.

President Bush has authorized $175 million to help the cash-strapped postal service contend with the anthrax and terrorist attacks and the U.S. Postal Service's board authorized $200 million in emergency spending by the agency.

The administration is also making $300 million available immediately to help authorities in New York, New Jersey, the district and Florida deal with the anthrax threat. Another $300 million is available for local and statewide efforts nationally.


Learn more about anthrax.

At the White House, Fleischer said roughly 200 employees were taking antibiotics as a precaution after Tuesday's discovery of anthrax at a remote mail handling facility. Thus far, he said none has tested positive for exposure.

Officials continued to draw a link — but produced no evidence — connecting the anthrax outbreak to the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people on Sept. 11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

"On Sept. 11, this great land came under attack, and is still under attack as we speak," President Bush said Wednesday after a tour of a Maryland business to promote his economic stimulus package.

"Both series of actions are motivated by evil and hate," the president said. "Both series of actions are meant to disrupt Americans' way of life. Both series of actions are an attack on our homeland. And both series of actions will not stand."

View The Evidence
Reaching out to the public for help, the Justice Department has released copies of three letters that contained anthrax. Two appeared to be identical; all three contained anti-American and anti-Israeli messages. All three letters were dated September 11.
On the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Postal Service was distributing masks and gloves for its workers. New equipment was on order to irradiate the mail to make it safer.

A spokesman for the Holy Cross Hospital in suburban Washington disclosed the three newest cases of suspected inhalation anthrax. The spokesman, Mike Hall, said one man and two women had been admitted overnight, and had a connection to the central Washington mail facility where others have become infected.

"They came in with flu-like symptoms, primarily respiratory, and the fact that they were in the 'hot zone' was the overriding factor in why we began treatment and testing," he said.

Finally, in some good news on the bioterror front, a mailroom worker infected with inhalation anthrax while working at a Florida tabloid publishing company was released from the hospital, his family said Wednesday.

Ernesto Blanco, 73, was released late Tuesday after a 23-day stay and was recovering at his North Miami home, stepdaughter Maria Orth said. She said he is responding to antibiotics.

Bob Stevens, a co-worker of Blanco's at American Media Inc., in Boca Raton, Fla., died of the inhaled form of the disease earlier this month.