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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 06:21 GMT 07:21 UK
Fear stalks the Sunshine State
Emergency workers outside the magazine's offices
Officials have been scouring for traces of the disease
By Fergal Parkinson in Boca Raton

The normally sleepy town of Boca Raton in one of Florida's most popular tourist areas has been stunned by news of the Anthrax cases.

The company where traces of the deadly disease have been found, American Media Inc, is well known in this area as the publisher of free tabloid newspapers.

Everyone here is terrified

Local hotel receptionist

It is also the local distributor for the National Enquirer, the weekly magazine that specialises in sensational stories.

Outside the office the surrounding area remains completely sealed off.

Masked and heavily protected FBI and public health officials have spent the day removing documents and equipment, carrying them into specially designed contamination-proof vehicles.

The contents are then driven away for examination.

'Like the X-Files'

One local man watching the scene said it was like an episode of the X-Files.

A hotel receptionist working next door to the office who did not want to be identified summed up the mood in the local community.

FBI agent wearing bio-hazard suit pours liquid into a yellow drum
Officials say the public is not at risk

"Everyone here is terrified " she said.

"If the September the 11th attacks were not bad enough then we now have to put up with this hidden danger."

The authorities are keen to calm public nerves.

City officials have spent the day reassuring callers to a special hotline that these two cases are isolated and the general community is not at risk.

Foul play

But the FBI is not so sure.

While it is ruling out a terrorist link, it is not ruling out foul play.

Most health experts admit the chances of the bacterium occurring naturally are extremely rare.

The view has been backed up by Dr Geoffrey Koplan from the Federal Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, who told local officials that the chance of anthrax being spread by anything other than human intervention was "nil to rare".

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"The threat of bioterrorism has become a national concern"
See also:

05 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax
25 Jul 01 | Americas
Q&A: Germ warfare
02 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax antidote hope
09 Oct 01 | Health
FBI pursues anthrax lead
09 Oct 01 | Americas
America on high alert
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