Two false terror alarms disrupt Downtowners

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Responders were hosed down last week as a precaution after examining a suspicious substance in the Canal St. subway station.

Last Wednesday, two unrelated terror scares that disrupted subway service and briefly closed the Brooklyn Bridge forced Lower Manhattan residents and workers to contend with missed appointments, delayed commutes, and for many, an eerie sense of déjà vu.

The first incident began around 8:45 a.m., when a passenger on a northbound No.1 train at Canal St. noticed what officials described as a suspicious package on the bench. The package contained a “wet, white, sugary” substance, Chief Harold Meyers of the Fire Department, told reporters at the scene.

The second incident unfolded several hours later, when a man called 911 and told police he had been offered $1,500 to drive a man across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Both threats appeared to be pranks, but they rattled plenty of nerves.
Patrick Varas, who works for an information technology firm at 75 Varick St., said that when he saw the emergency vehicles and men in protective white and green
suits responding to the subway threat, he was reminded of the Sept. 11 attack.

“Here we go again,” Varas said, describing his first thought when he saw the scene.
Another worker at 75 Varick St. said an announcement was made over the public address system saying it was not necessary to evacuate. The man, who declined to be identified, said that his company gave employees the option of leaving, and many did.

Officials roped off several blocks around the Canal St. stop of the 1,9 train, including the area from Sixth Ave. to Hudson St. between Canal and Spring Sts. Subway service between 14th St. and South Ferry was suspended for the 1 and 9 and express 2,3 service was suspended between 34th and Chambers Sts. The Fire Department sent 100 firefighters to the scene along with a decontamination truck, several tents, and portable showers that they used to hose down more than 24 emergency workers.

Firefighters tested the package, which had what one official described as an “anti-M.T.A. statement” written on it and contained a plastic bag with the white substance inside. Tests came out negative for hazardous chemicals or radioactive materials, but the initial tests for biological agents were deemed “inconclusive.”

The package was brought to the city’s Health Department for further testing. The health department later issued a statement saying the anthrax test was negative. Officials said the material was probably cornstarch.

But before the 1,9 trains started rolling after 3:30 p.m. and the suspicious material was revealed to be a likely cooking agent, residents and workers coped with the uncertainty of not knowing if the threat was for real.

“It affects us, but will they tell us anything?” said April Andres, who teaches English as a second language nearby.

Andres said that many of her students were late to class, including one who spent two hours stuck on a subway train near Canal St.

As a crowd of people gathered to watch the activity around the Canal St. stop, word filtered in that the Brooklyn Bridge had also been shut down.

A man told investigators that he had been offered $1,500 to drive another man across the Brooklyn Bridge. The man who made the 911 call identified a red car parked on Centre St. as the one he had been asked to drive. The car was later reported to belong to a Daily News education reporter who had been covering a hearing at 250 Broadway. The bridge was shut for about two hours.


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