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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Capitol Hill on edge
Senator MIke DeWine (R-Ohio) conducts business outside on 18 October
Congressional work continues - but much of it outside
Kevin Anderson

Normally at this time of the year, Republicans and Democrats would be fighting the battle of the budget.

Capitol Hill would be bustling with activity as the two parties tried to gain the upper hand.

Everybody is just really on edge, hoping that they can figure out where this stuff is coming from and keep it from spreading

Brad Clanton
Congressional aide
Tourists would be queuing for tours and posing for pictures in front of the Capitol's gleaming white dome, especially on a postcard-perfect day like Thursday.

Instead, large parts of the grounds are cordoned off. Police outnumber tourists, and the halls are not filled with legislators and their staff but with lonely footsteps echoing through empty corridors.

Instead of fighting budget battles, Congress finds itself rallying behind the president's war on terrorism.

And that war was made real for them this week as the threat of anthrax came to Capitol Hill.

On edge

Brad Clanton should have been working Thursday. He is the chief counsel for the subcommittee on the Constitution for the House of Representatives.

Instead, he was showing a friend around the grounds of the Capitol. He had to show his Congressional identification to police to get up the steps of the building, which he said were open to the public before the attacks last month.

Senate staff queue to be tested for exposure to anthrax
The invisible nature of the anthrax alerts is unsettling
Normally, at this time of the year, he said that sidewalks would be packed with members of Congress, their staffs and tourists. The Mall would be bustling.

"But as you can see it's desolate," he said.

He said that people are apprehensive.

"We don't really know where it's coming from or who's putting it where," he said, adding, "Everybody is just really on edge, hoping that they can figure out where this stuff is coming from and keep it from spreading."

The House of Representatives shut down completely until Tuesday, he said, and he supports that decision.

"When you think about the number of staff people who work in the House and not knowing the extent to which this stuff is being spread around, it seems to me to be a wise decision rather than let a couple of hundred people be exposed to this stuff," he said.

The Senate decided defiantly to remain in session. Many members of the Senate felt it was their patriotic duty to continue to be about the country's business.

And indeed, symbols of American patriotism are evident. Flags hang in many windows of the office buildings surrounding the Capitol, and red, white and blue bunting normally reserved for 4 July and the inauguration hang from the columned halls.

An education in uncertainty

Jessica Rose came with six other students from Leeds University to work as an intern on Capitol Hill. She started work on 11 September.

She came into Congressman Benjamin Cardin's offices at 9 am that day, and she was sent home two hours later.

Unless you are here, you don't realise that Washington is probably the safest place I can be... Our families in England are probably more worried than we are

Jessica Rose
British student intern
One of her jobs was to open mail. On Tuesday, she was told not to open any more mail after the discovery of the anthrax-laden letter.

She was not concerned about being exposed to anthrax because the Rayburn Office Building where she works is across Capitol Hill from the Hart building where the dangerous letter was opened.

The only connection between the buildings is an underground train system.

Some people were upset. They were worried that it would come through ventilation system.

The silent, invisible nature is unsettling. With a physical terror attack such as a bombing, a person can at least see it, she said, but added, "With anthrax, you don't know where it is."

But she is not worried. "Unless you are here, you don't realise that Washington is probably the safest place I can be," she said.

"Our families in England are probably more worried than we are," she said of herself and her fellow students.

No rest for the police

Members of Congress and the staff may have taken the day off as a precaution, but police and other security officers did not have the luxury of staying away from the Capitol.

An officer with the Capitol Police was on her way to work Thursday.

She was apprehensive. She was not confident that the anthrax spores had not got into the ventilation system, despite the statements of health officials to the contrary.

And she said, "you don't know if you've got it on your clothes and whether you're taking it home and spreading it to your family."

See also:

18 Oct 01 | Americas
Bio-labs face tight security
17 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax: Vehicle for spreading fear
18 Oct 01 | Americas
Senate workers line up for tests
17 Oct 01 | Americas
Using anthrax as a weapon
16 Oct 01 | Americas
Tracking the anthrax spore
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax
18 Oct 01 | Business
Anthrax fears depress stock prices
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