AUSTIN: Tens of thousands of people streamed off university campuses in Texas, North Dakota and Ohio on Friday after telephoned bomb threats prompted officials to warn students and faculty to get away as quickly as possible.
All three campuses eventually were deemed safe and reopened by the evening, as authorities worked to determine whether the threats were related.
The FBI was working to determine whether the threats to the University of Texas, North Dakota State University, and Hiram College in Ohio were related. No explosives were found.
The University of Texas received a call about 8-35 a.m. local time from a man claiming to be with al-Qaeda who said he had placed bombs all over the 50,000-student Austin campus, according to University of Texas spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon. He claimed the bombs would go off in 90 minutes and all buildings were evacuated at 9-50 a.m. as a precaution, Ms Weldon said.
The deadline passed without incident, and the university reopened all buildings by noon. Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day, but other university activities were to resume by 5 p.m..
A third evacuation order for much-smaller Hiram College in northeast Ohio was issued hours later but lifted on Friday night, after a sweep found nothing suspicious.
North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani said 20,000 people also were evacuated from his school’s main and downtown campuses in Fargo after the school received its threat. FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said a call that included a “threat of an explosive device” came in about 9-45 a.m., but he declined to give further details.
NDSU buildings reopened about 1 p.m. and classes were set to resume an hour later, said Bresciani, adding that the campus had been “deemed safe.”
In Texas, campus sirens wailed and cellphones pinged with text messages when the initial alert went out. Students described more confusion than panic as they exited the sprawling campus in what one described as an “orderly but tense” manner. Students said they were directed off campus by university staff.
“One of them said to me ‘get off this campus as soon as possible,’” said Elizabeth Gerberich, an 18-year-old first-year student from New Jersey.
Police blocked off roads heading into campus as lines of cars sat in gridlock trying to get out.
With rain falling, students stood under awnings and overhangs and inundated nearby off-campus restaurants and coffee shops as they waited for updates from officials.
The FBI and local authorities searched the campus but found nothing suspicious and university spokeswoman Nicole Niemi said classes and other regular activities were continuing as planned.