Plague, 255 fictional deaths reported in Colo. mock bio-terrorism attack

May 22, 2000|By COX NEWS SERVICE

DENVER - The mock bio-terrorism attack on Denver reached a pretend full-scale crisis with 1,314 confirmed cases of pneumonic plague and 255 "deaths."

Area airports, bus stations and train depots were closed, and the governor ordered residents of the city to remain in their homes - all in the fictional context of the congressionally-ordered exercise.

Called "TOPOFF," the exercise was the largest-ever test of the nation's ability to respond to a terrorist attack with biological and chemical weapons. A similar drill was taking place in Portsmouth, N.H.

Although officials running the exercise took pains to continually say it was a drill, several frightened Denver residents called the public health department to ask about the terrorism they heard was under way.

The exercise was scripted by the Justice Department, and the FBI was in charge. It began Friday night with 10 people with "pneumonia" showing up at Denver hospitals. Federal health officials were not contacted until 12 hours later, by which time a cascade of mock cases had filled hospitals.

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