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White Powder Scare at Police Station

NEW YORK -- In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, when someone found an envelope filled with a suspicious powder, panic, a massive emergency response and national headlines followed.



When it happened yesterday at the 120th Precinct's St. George stationhouse, the emergency response arrived on cue, shutting down Bay Street and "decontaminating" 11 people in case the mystery substance proved hazardous.



By contrast, most passersby greeted the scene with indifference.



"Oh, come on!" said St. George resident Richenda Kramer, as she walked on the other side of the street, heading to the ferry terminal. "The level of hysteria is just ridiculous. ... I think it's overkill." If an envelope with white powder elicits such a massive response, she said, "then the terrorists succeeded beyond their wildest dreams."



In this case, the white powder turned out to be cornstarch, authorities said.



Police at the stationhouse discovered the envelope - addressed "to the members of the 120th Precinct" at 78 Richmond Terr. - sometime after 10 a.m.



Inside the envelope, cops found a threatening letter and the powder. The envelope was opened in the "outer office" of Deputy Inspector John Denesopolis, cops said.



Meanwhile, the FDNY deployed its "Major Emergency Response Vehicle" - essentially, a massive ambulance that resembles a red school bus and can handle 15 walk-up patients or three patients on stretchers at once.



Emergency workers set up a decontamination area behind the police stationhouse, where 10 civilians and two police officers were treated, but none required hospital care.



Paramvage Weeraradna, who works down the block from the stationhouse at Home Plates Eatery & Pizza, 58 Richmond Terr., understood the response but was frustrated that Bay Street was shut down.



"We are stuck," he said. "We don't have any business. Customers cannot come, and we cannot deliver."



And although most people walking by didn't even lift their heads or interrupt their conversations to find out what was going on, the response made an impression on a few people.



Adele Carter of Clifton called the response "necessary," but noted, "I think somebody's playing a prank on the precinct."



Standing outside a deli next to Home Plates, one merchant marveled that a single letter could have such an effect.



"That's crazy. One guy could do this? That's just crazy," he said. "When they catch him, they should arrest him for good to make an example so nobody will do it again."



Advance staff writer Phil Helsel contributed to this report.



John Annese is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at annese@siadvance.com



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