... In Action


Domestic FIRE inside a house. The Hal Far Fire Station relayed a Falcon RIV and a Tanker to the scene of the incident together with the Fire Chief vehicle within moments of the fire on Thursday 11th January 2001.

No one was injured when part of a 50-kilogramme World War II bomb exploded when it was hit by a trencher digging in Hompesch Road, Fgura, yesterday afternoon. The rest of the bomb was detonated by the Armed Forces` bomb disposal unit on the spot some three hours later after a protective wall of sandbags was built around it.

The police immediately evacuated residents as a precautionary measure. Employees at the nearby HSBC Bank`s branch were also evacuated. The trencher which struck the bomb was being driven by 25-year-old Mario Borg of Zebbug, who works with the Philip Agius company.

The roadworks at Hompesch Road are being carried out by Schembri Ltd which rented the trencher complete with driver from Philip Agius. Schembri Ltd employee Karmenu Grech said he saw the trencher digging near a telephone connection box and was walking towards it when the blast took place.

"All of a sudden there was an explosion and a fireball came up from the ground. The bang was so loud it caused the trencher to shake." Mr Grech said Mr Borg turned pale with the shock. At first he thought the trencher had struck a power cable and it was only after walking closer to the affected area that he realised it was a bomb.

The police arrived on the scene at that stage and immediately started to evacuate residents.

The first rains of the season brought the usual chaos in the flooding-prone streets and junctions of Birkirkara and Msida as well as in other parts of the island yesterday. As the skies turned a murky yellow at about 4.30 p.m., a storm broke out, lasting about 45 minutes.

In Birkirkara, a number of motorists had to be pulled out of their cars in the peak of the storm. "We have helped so many people out of cars that I`ve lost count now," a drenched Civil Protection Department head Peter Cordina said. In Valley Road, several cars were carried away by the gushing water. "It was really terrible. We had to take some elderly people out of their cars," he said. When the storm broke out, the alarm was sounded and parts of Msida and Birkirkara were immediately closed off. But some cars were trapped in the water in no time.

RMF Breakdown and Traffic Services described the situation at the time of the storm as "chaotic". "We are in full swing. We have received 73 calls in the last hour alone," a spokesman said. A spokesman for car breakdown company CAA said the telephone lines were inundated with calls for help from motorists. "We were receiving calls from stranded drivers from just about everywhere, from Cirkewwa to Birkirkara," he said.

The Times - 02.11.2001

Seven letters containing powder which the health authorities suspect could be anthrax were sent for tests in a specially sealed packet to Porton Down in Salisbury, UK; director general for public health Ray Busuttil said yesterday.

Porton Down is a biological and chemical warfare research centre jointly run by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Health, Dr Busuttil said. The packet will be delivered by courier service and test findings could reach Malta in the next 48 hours at the earliest.

In the meantime, three more suspect letters were found yesterday. A letter containing powder and addressed to a home in St Paul`s Bay was found at the St Paul`s Bay Maltapost branch and will be delivered to Porton Down today. About 20 employees at the branch were given ciprofloxacin antibiotics. The two other letters were found to present no hazard and were intercepted at the Maltapost branches in Luqa and Zabbar.

Dr Busuttil was speaking during a joint news conference between the health division and the Civil Protection Department at the Ministry of Health in Valletta. Asked why it had taken this long to send the letters for testing, Dr Busuttil said the operation to retrieve the letters had continued well into the night yesterday. Before sending the material abroad, the local health authorities first had to obtain the green light from the UK`s Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the health authorities, Dr Busuttil said.

Dr Busuttil said that Porton Down was specifically equipped to diagnose most known types of biological and chemical warfare. "Porton Down will examine the powder in the letters thoroughly and pinpoint any dangerous spores. The powder could represent any form of hazard and is not necessarily anthrax," he said.

Five of the seven letters were intercepted on Monday by Maltapost personnel when a suspicious substance was noticed as the letters were being stamped. One of the five letters was addressed to the American Embassy in Floriana, two to the American Ambassador`s residence in Balzan, one to the British High Commission in Floriana and the destination of the fifth was not divulged because the address was written in Arabic, informed sources had told The Times.

All five letters bore Maltese postage stamps but this does not exclude the possibility that they could have made their way to the island from an overseas source. A sixth letter also mailed in Malta was opened at Super One Television. "The person who opened the letter literally ran across the station telling all his colleagues about it. This has necessitated the closure of the station," Dr Busuttil said.

"Following a request from the station, the health authorities agreed to allow broadcasts but no one is allowed to enter or leave the station until the results of the overseas tests on the powder reach the health department." About 10 employees have volunteered to stay in the station.The seventh letter addressed to a firm in Regency House in Republic Street, Valletta, was posted in the US. The addressee became suspicious after listening to the news bulletin warning of suspect packages and duly informed the health authorities.

Regency House is an office block, though the ground floor is taken up by retail outlets. This building has been cordoned off by the health authorities until they receive the results of the tests being carried out at Porton Down, Civil Protection Department director Peter Cordina director said. Dr Busuttil said that anyone who comes into contact with a suspicious letter or mailed packet should seal it in two plastic bags and remain in the room where he came into contact with the suspicious substance. The CPD should be contacted immediately on tel. 462610 and will take the necessary precautions. "In such cases, one should not under any circumstances go to a health centre or to the hospital`s emergency centre," Dr Busuttil stressed.

Dr Busuttil said that firms and departments that received a substantial volume of mail regularly should isolate the opening of letters to a particular room and involve as few people as possible in the opening of mail. In all, 39 Maltapost employees - 23 in Valletta, 14 in Balzan and two in Paola - had to remain at their branch before they were cleared by the Civil Protection Department on Monday. The branches will remain closed until the results of the tests are known. The police will start their investigations when the letters are returned by Porton Down.

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium bacillus anthracis. It most commonly occurs in mammals including cattle, sheep, goats and camels. It also occurs in humans when exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals. Direct, person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely. It is not contagious.

Anthrax infection may occur in three forms: cutaneous (skin), inhalation, and gastrointestinal. Between 25 per cent and 60 per cent of cases are fatal.

Anthrax scares have also been sent to the Paola and Luqa police stations. In fact Luqa Police Station has had to be kept closed for almost a week.

The Civil Protection Department was yesterday involved in a somewhat unusual, but satisfying rescue operation -the recovery of a stray puppy from the depths of a large, empty water reservoir in the limits of Mosta. The puppy, born in the fields off Durumblat Road, where it lived together with the rest of the members of its family, must have fallen a height of almost three storeys into the disused reservoir on Sunday.

That was when a woman, who feeds the stray dogs in the fields, heard the animal`s pitiful screeching. She called Antoinette Borg, an animal lover, who runs a sanctuary in the area, yesterday (Monday 5/11/2001) morning, and Ms Borg went to the scene to investigate.

Two members of the Civil Protection Department from the Xemxija Fire Station arrived on the scene after Ms Borg called them. Assistance and Rescue Officer Ray Vella, assisted by ARO Joe Bezzina, abseiled down into the reservoir to save the frightened puppy, which was around four months old. It was hauled up to safety in a bucket and reunited with another three dogs, which live in the fields. The puppy was not injured and had been sighted moving from one side of the reservoir to the next earlier on. However, it would never have managed to get out of the reservoir without assistance.

A Civil Protection Department officer was slightly injured on Sunday night (9.12.2001) after the fire engine he was in overturned and ended up on its side. The accident took place shortly before midnight in Marina Street, Msida, when the fire engine was responding to an emergency call.

The police said the fire engine hit the central strip and overturned, ending up on its side right next to the Msida traffic lights. At the time of the accident, the roads were extremely slippery due to the rain that had fallen earlier in the day.

The injured 31-year-old man, from Valletta, was a passenger in the vehicle. He suffered hand and leg injuries and was rushed to hospital after colleagues managed to free him from the wreckage. Police said he was operated on yesterday morning and his condition, although serious, was not life threatening.

Numerous other CPD vehicles converged on the scene of the accident to help their colleagues. Two department trucks were used to lift the damaged fire engine back onto its wheels. Four massive air bags, normally used by the CPD to help motorists involved in accidents, were this time used to help one of their own.

Police units closed off traffic to Msida in both directions as the operation was underway. Inspector Stephen Gatt is investigating the accident.

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