GIBSON CITY - A water cannon was used Monday afternoon to blast open a suspicious package that had arrived at the Gibson City Post office, forcing the evacuation of the office and nearby businesses for about three hours.
Using a remote-controlled robot device, members of the joint University of Illinois and Champaign Police Department Bomb Squad determined the package did not contain a bomb.
The package was moved to a vacant lot south of the post office where the water cannon blasted it apart.
Gibson City Police Chief Steve Cushman described the package's contents as "a thick solid steel rod with holes drilled in it," adding the package, a newspaper-wrapped cylinder, was "definitely suspicious" when it arrived at the office Monday morning. He described it as "exactly the shape that could have been a pipe bomb."
The tightly wrapped package was further suspicious to postal and police authorities because it did not contain an addressee or a return address.
Postmaster Mark Wilson first isolated the package, then called Cushman, who put his officers to work establishing a safe perimeter around the office. He then called the bomb squad.
Officials are considering two options to explain the incident, said Cushman: it was a prank, or the item is part of a larger package yet to be found.
However, no opened or damaged parcels were found among items delivered Monday morning, according to Wilson. He said two trucks deliver mail each weekday before 6:30 a.m. from the Champaign Sorting Center Facility.
Wilson said a postal inspector from Springfield was called to the scene and will conduct a further investigation.
Cushman said he appreciated the cooperation from postal workers and employees of the nearby businesses who were asked to vacate their buildings. The post office is located at the southwest corner of Ninth and Church streets, a block from the city's main business district.
Cushman also praised the prompt response from the region's bomb squad.
"They are highly trained professionals with very sophisticated and expensive equipment ready to assist with these situations," he said, adding the squad members kept in contact with Gibson City police via telephone and arrived on the scene in about an hour.
Cushman said members of the volunteer Gibson City Fire Department & Rescue Squad and the city's street and alley personnel helped his department control access to the cordoned-off area.
The fire department also was on stand-by until Gibson Area Ambulance Services could place a rig near the scene.