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a576: California post office evacuated/Haitian package! (fwd)
January 31, 2002
Postal Workers Flee Mystery Package
Hazards: Inglewood facility is evacuated, but investigators find the parcel contains a bottle of an exotic Haitian beverage that broke during shipment.
By LIZ F. KAY, TIMES STAFF WRITER
It started with a leaky package.
Workers at the north Inglewood post office noticed it Wednesday morning. Several examined it. Six began to complain of headaches, nausea and dry mouth.
Managers called the Los Angeles County Fire Department's hazardous-materials unit, and about 30 postal employees and four customers were evacuated. Authorities established a containment area, closing off La Brea Avenue between Centinela Avenue and Hyde Park Boulevard.
Hazardous-materials team members, wearing surgical green suits, went in to retrieve the package for testing.
After emerging with it, each member was hosed down in a children's wading pool to reduce danger from possible contaminants.
Postal investigators contacted the sender, using the return address in Coral Gables, Fla. But the sender seemed to have trouble understanding their concern.
Then they called the intended recipient, 26-year-old Rosenne Germille of Inglewood.
She told them that the package, sent by her family, contained cinnamon sticks, a breadfruit, and two glass bottles containing Essence de Vanille, a drink made of vanilla, caramel and alcohol that is popular in her native Haiti.
One of those bottles had broken.
"I tell my family near Miami to send it to me" because the drink is not available for sale here, Germille said after driving to the containment site at authorities' request. "I don't like to drink Pepsi and I don't like to drink 7-Up. You mix in lemon and sugar and water and drink it like juice," she said.
A friend who came with Germille was not surprised by the response, particularly after Sept. 11.
"If that's the first time you smell something like that, then of course the post office gets scared," said Alfred Macksa.
Fire Department public information officer Roland L. Sprewell said it was unclear whether employees were ill or frightened.
"Because the contents of the box had an alcohol base and because they opened it in an enclosed space, they may have been overcome by the fumes," he said.
"Or it could be completely psychosomatic."