AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Police shut down 10 blocks of businesses in the heart of downtown early Monday after dozens of birds were found dead in the streets, but officials said preliminary tests showed no dangerous chemicals in the air.
As many as 60 dead pigeons, sparrows and grackles were found overnight along Congress Avenue, a main route through downtown. No human injuries or illnesses were reported at the time of this report
"We do not feel there is a threat to the public health," said Adolfo Valadez, the medical director for Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services. He said preliminary air-quality tests showed no dangerous chemicals and the area should reopen around noon.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said officials had no credible information to suggest any imminent threat to the city.
On Congress Avenue, just outside the state Capitol, emergency workers donned yellow hazardous-material suits Monday morning, and dozens of fire trucks and ambulances were parked nearby.
Workers were testing for any sort of environmental contaminant, bio-hazard, or gas that might have cause the bird deaths, police said. At least one bird carcass was being tested locally for other possible causes, and other carcasses were shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Texas A&M University.
Valadez said the tests on the dead birds would likely take several days and look for signs of poisoning or viral infections, though he said officials do not think bird flu is involved.
A 10-block stretch of Congress Avenue, several side streets and all buildings in the area were shut down and declared off-limits as a precaution, Chovanetz said.
The street closure stretched from just outside the Capitol to a section of the Colorado River known as Town Lake. The Capitol opened on schedule Monday, the day before the legislative session was to begin.
Identity of Unusual Odor in NY/NJ Still Not Known
NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY (AP) -- Authorities were investigating the source of a mysterious gas-like odor Monday that wafted over Manhattan and parts of New Jersey and led to some building evacuations and mass transit disruptions.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was no indication that the air was unsafe to breathe. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said there was no sign of terrorism.
"It may just be an unpleasant smell," Bloomberg said. "Our suggestion is that people should do their best to ventilate areas, open their windows or turn on any fans until this gas passes."
The Fire Department began getting calls about the odor around 9 a.m., said spokesman Tim Hinchey. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey temporarily suspended some of its PATH commuter train service between New Jersey and Manhattan as a precaution.
People reported the smell from the northern tip of Manhattan down to Greenwich Village and across the Hudson River to New Jersey.
There was a small natural gas leak in Greenwich Village, but it wouldn't have been enough to account for the pervasive odor, Bloomberg said. He said the smell may have resulted from a leak of the chemical mercaptan, which is added to natural gas to produce its easily recognizable odor. By itself, natural gas is odorless.
Utility crews from Consolidated Edison were investigating, but they had found no abnormal changes in the gas transmission system, said spokesman Chris Olert. "If there was a big leak, we would see a change in the gas flow," he said. Some office buildings and apartment buildings were evacuated as a precaution.
Review, Summary, and Preliminary analysis
TEXAS: The incident in Austin, TX fits an almost "classic scenario" that is taught in almost every advanced Haz-Mat or Homeland Security class with a report of a sudden appearance of a "bird-die-off." Most emergency responders have been taught to consider such a situation as an ominous sign that an environmental release of some toxic material has occurred or a epidemic disease has spread among a given species. This scenario bears extensive monitoring and forensic examination of the deceased animals to ascertain the source of the incident.
NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY: The report of pervasive and "unusual smell" over a populated area is also a key indicator of some sort of environmental release. Again, testing of air samples and/or physical investigation of suspected release point(s) is necessary to determine the nature and source of the smell. In the case of NY/NJ, there are a number of industrial facilities that could have leaked some sort of chemical or there may be a so far undetected gas leak somewhere.
Investigation of both incidents continues at the time of this report, and no injuries or deaths of humans have been reported as the result of either incident. EmergencyNet News continues to monitor both situations and we will bring you the latest facts if/when they are released by official sources.