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Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001

Kobe Hash House joggers chalk up white powder snafu to experience

Staff writer

KOBE -- The recent anthrax attacks in the United States have caused panic throughout the world over the deadly bacteria.

And in early November, members of a Kobe group discovered just how keen those fears were within their own neighborhood.

On Nov. 5, the Kobe Hash House Harriers, an organization of Japanese and foreigners who describe themselves as drinkers with a running problem, met in Kobe for a trot around the port city.

The group was established in Kobe in 1978, is well-known among foreign residents, and conducts regular runs throughout the city and its surrounding areas.

Prior to each event, members of the group usually mark out the designated course with chalk. Flour is used wherever the road surface is not appropriate for chalk.

It was the group's use of the latter that caused all the problems.

One of the areas traversed by the runners on Nov. 5 was the busy Sannomiya district of Kobe -- an area where the route had accordingly been marked out with little patches of flour.

But the sight of flour on the street, allied to daily media reports about white powder anthrax attacks in the U.S. and possibly on U.S. missions in Japan, led to some bizarre scenes.

"Somebody panicked, thinking that the flour was anthrax," said one runner who wished to remain anonymous. Group members added that it had never crossed their minds that the white substance might cause a scare.

"Police wearing silver space suits to protect against chemical weapons were called in and those still in buildings around the area were ordered to stay inside their offices."

The Harriers told the police that the offending substance was just flour and tried to explain its purpose.

"Five of our members explained to police who the Kobe Hash House Harriers were, their long history in Kobe and the fact that such runs are held regularly," said one harrier who was not among those questioned by the authorities.

"We also supplied the police with the names of all our members."

Police investigators were not amused, however.

"One of the officers who interrogated our members seemed to appreciate that it was an innocent misunderstanding, but another one was very upset, shouting and implying that our group was stupid to have used flour," the aforesaid harrier explained.

Hyogo police declined to respond directly to the comments made by the Hash House Harriers, stating only that they had investigated a call that a white powder had been spotted on the streets of Kobe.

They said that the substance in question was not anthrax.

The Kobe Hash House Harriers described the incident as a misunderstanding and said no harm was done. They added that, in the future, runs around Kobe will marked solely with chalk.

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