Monday, January 08, 2007

Downtown Austin Closed After Dead Birds Found

Downtown Austin Closed After Dead Birds Found

Houston Chronicle | January 8, 2007 LISA FALKENBERG

AUSTIN — More than 10 blocks in downtown Austin leading up to the Capitol were shut down early today after officials found up to 60 dead grackles, sparrows and pigeons in the area, although the stretch was expected to reopen soon after no dangerous chemicals were detected.

"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. The area was expected to reopen by noon, he added.

The closure - on the eve of the state's 80th legislative session - came after 40 to 60 carcasses were found overnight along Congress between Sixth and Eighth streets. There were no reports of humans harmed.

Police closed the main north-south route through downtown and all side streets for a block to the east and west while crews tested for environmental contaminants or gas or chlorine leaks, Austin Police spokeswoman Toni Chovanetz said.

Chovanetz would not discuss details or speculate on what could have killed the birds. She said it was the first time she could remember a large swath of downtown being shut down because of dead birds.

Grackles are common in Austin and considered a loud, messy nuisance. Like pigeons, they loiter in trees and structures, indiscriminately soiling anything or anyone unlucky enough to be below.

Valadez said at least one carcass was being tested locally and others were being shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Texas A&M University for testing. It could be days or even weeks before the test results come back, he said.

Valadez said the tests will be looking for signs of poisoning or viral infections - though he said officials do not think bird flu is involved.


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