Hong Kong police

US consulate in Hong Kong closes, suspends visa applications after suspicious white powder found

Discovery sparks evacuation of staff and visitors but investigations later show substance is ‘not harmful’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 11:29pm

The US consulate in Hong Kong closed on Monday after a suspicious white powder was found, cancelling visa applications for the day.

Investigations later showed the substance was not harmful, according to a police source. Authorities are still examining its nature and origin.

Emergency personnel were sent to the consulate’s Garden Road compound in Central after staff called police at about 9.15am.

Investigators wearing chemical protection gear were also sent to investigate inside the office, and officers from the force’s bomb disposal unit assisted in the investigation.

Initial information showed a very small quantity of an unidentified white powder was found at one of the counters where visitors hand in visa applications to consular staff, the police source said.

“Initial examination showed the powder was not a harmful substance. Further tests are needed to find out exactly what it is,” the source said.

The counter is at the entrance of one of the blocks in the consulate. Visitors are required to leave their applications at the counter before receiving security checks and entering the building.

After the powder discovery, visitors and staff were immediately evacuated from the counter area and nearby area.

All the entrances and exits were guarded by police and security officers as no visitors were allowed inside the building, creating long queues outside the compound.

Several police vehicles were outside the consulate along with fire engines and an ambulance.

A consulate spokeswoman, Kristin Haworth, confirmed that an envelope containing unknown white powder was opened in the consular section and the office would be closed for the whole day.

She said the consulate would resume normal working hours on Tuesday and that all appointments affected on Monday would be rescheduled.

Haworth said people affected should reschedule their appointments on the consulate’s visa information services website.

Michael Pan, a Hong Kong resident, arrived at the consulate at 9am for an interview for a 10-year multiple-entry visa, when he was told the office was closed. He said he later saw police wearing gas masks enter the consulate at about 10am.

A text message was sent to some visa applicants this morning notifying them of the cancellations, citing “unforeseen reasons”, but Pan said he never got the message.

He said the section of Garden Road outside the consulate had already been blocked off when he arrived.

“I’m not sure what happened but I’m worried that my visa application will be delayed. I’m travelling to the US in early December,” said Pan, who had been waiting outside the consulate for two hours in light rain.

“I hope the applications affected today will be processed with priority.”

Police are treating the case as a “misunderstanding” and are conducting further investigations.

“The incident has now been resolved. The safety of our personnel and visitors is a top priority, and we apologise for any inconvenience to our visa applicants and visitors,” the consulate said in a statement.