Suspicious parcel sent to Illinois Air Force base

August 31, 2011 - 2:35 PM
Air Base Suspicious Package

This photo from video provided by KMOV-TV in St. Louis shows emergency personnel at Scott Air Force Base Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, in Mascoutah, Ill., where three people were hospitalized with rashes after a suspicious package arrived at the base's mail center. The package uncovered prompted precautionary evacuations of the base's education center, bowling alley and other services near the mail center. (AP Photo/KMOV-TV) TELEVISION OUT

MASCOUTAH, Ill. (AP) — Three people fell sick and were treated at a hospital Wednesday after a suspicious package arrived at the mail center of an Air Force base in southern Illinois, prompting the evacuation of parts of the facility.

Two workers for the U.S. Postal Service and an Air Force serviceman at the Scott Air Force Base developed respiratory or skin reactions around 9 a.m. Wednesday in reaction to something in the mail room, according to base commander Col. Michael Hornitschek.

Officials isolated a package believed to be the cause of the discomfort and hazardous material specialists are investigating it, Hornitschek said. He offered no details about the package or what material was inside.

Capt. Kathleen Ferrero said the three were treated then released from a hospital in Belleville, Ill. Fourteen other people were decontaminated on site.

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is less than two weeks away. The FBI launched an investigation into the package but Hornitschek downplayed any possible terrorist threat. He described the FBI investigation as typical protocol when a suspicious package is found.

"I'm not going to speculate" about possible terrorism, Hornitschek said. "We see no connection to the 9/11 anniversary."

The incident prompted precautionary evacuations of the base's education center, bowling alley and other services near the mail center. Hornitschek said about 100 people were evacuated from the area. Officials were confident no additional evacuations were needed at the base or in nearby Mascoutah, Ill., about 25 miles east of St. Louis.

"There is no threat to the local community to our knowledge," he said.

Still, the incident prompted some concern at the base. Alarms blared, with a voice over a loud speaker warning that it was not an exercise. Hazardous material trucks, firefighters and ambulances hurried to the scene.

Ferrero noted that the base routinely performs exercises for incidents like this and was ready to respond.

"We are reacting on the side of caution," she said.

Master Sgt. Jerome Baysmore said "several" firefighters at the base were overcome by heat and treated by on-base medics. He did not know how many.

The air base serves as a global mobility and transportation hub for the Defense Department. The base is home to the U.S. Transportation Command, Air Mobility Command, the 618th Air and Space Operations Center and Air Force Network Integration Center. It is also one of four bases in the Air Force to house both a Reserve unit — the 932nd Airlift Wing — and an Air National Guard unit — the 126th Air Refueling Wing.

Hornitschek said 10,000 to 12,000 people are on the base on a given day.

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AP reporters Karen Hawkins in Chicago and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.