Public tours resume for first time since anthrax scare led to the closing of some congressional buildings

Sunday, December 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Neither rain, nor cold, nor fear of anthrax could keep several hundred visitors from the Capitol for the first public tours Saturday in almost two months.

``We're here from a long ways away and I refused to leave without seeing it if I got the opportunity,'' said Whitey Klassen of Vergas, Minn., making his first visit to Washington. ``I just don't like all the barricades, but other than that it's great.''

Despite a cold rain, visitors lined up an hour early for the 30-minute tours, which ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

``I'm not worried about anthrax,'' said Sonja Miethke of Austin, Texas, accompanied by her husband, John. ``I'm not here to deliver mail, you know?''

The tours, held daily except Sunday, were suspended after an aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle opened a letter containing anthrax on Oct. 15. Some buildings in the Capitol complex were closed to decontaminate for anthrax, and one still is shuttered.

Capitol Police said the tours were halted so they could put in place new security checks.

``The tours are virtually the same as they were after September 11,'' said Ted Daniel, the Capitol's director of visitor services. ``We're just happy to be back.''

Tourists saw the old sights _ the Capitol Rotunda, Statuary Hall _ and the upgraded security.

Police required visitors to walk through a metal detector and have their bags X-rayed in a trailer outside the building. Backpacks were not allowed inside.

Tourists no longer can wander around the Capitol by themselves. Group tours now are capped at 25 people, half what they once were.

The House and Senate chambers are closed while Congress is not in session, another change.

``I think we're very well-watched,'' said Dean Hansen, visiting with his wife, Janine, from Lehi, Utah.

The tours were to resume earlier in the week but were delayed partly because of a terrorist alert the government issued Monday, police said.

``I don't find it intimidating because I've been in and out of airports for the past three months,'' said Kathleen Sanfelippo of Birmingham, Ala. ``I find the physical barricades a little disturbing. ... But that's just the way it is.''