There’s an old saying, “the mail must go through,” but on Thursday and Friday the Athens Post Office made it happen under some extraordinary circumstances.
A late afternoon fire at a Larkin Street building, where large amounts of ammonium nitrate fertilizer were stored, sent emergency plans into actions for the city.
Athens fire and police personnel began to clear the immediate area of all occupants. That meant emptying homes and businesses for a five block radius.
Athens Postmaster Gerald Malanders said the post office was evacuated at 6:05 p.m.
That set local post office officials scrambling to try to get to the mail that was at the office and get it to the residents.
“It is extremely important to get all of the mail out for us,” Malanders said. “We take it very seriously.”
Athens Post Office Supervisor Travis Gore said the drama began for him when he got the call explaining that the barricades would prevent anyone from getting to the post office on East Tyler Street.
After a couple of hours, they were able to get a Department of Public Safety trooper escort to the post office.
“They escorted us into the post office and we got all of the outgoing mail for Thursday,” Gore said. “We got it loaded in the postmaster’s personal vehicle. He carried all that mail to Coppell, to the processing center.”
Malanders estimated that the loading took about 15 minutes.
Gore said he went to bed that evening not knowing if the barricades would still be there Friday.
He began getting calls at about 3:30 a.m. from employees explaining the barricades were still in place and no one could get to the post office building.
Malanders learned of the difficulty and made arrangements through upper management for a truck to travel from Dallas and off-load at the post office in Jacksonville.
“Since we are a hub, we had to make plans to deliver mail to Murchison, Chandler, Frankston, Neches and all of those points around here,” Malanders said.
The Athens clerks were sent to Jacksonville to separate the mail for Athens, and the smaller, surrounding locations.
“We had the Athens truck come out to the parking lot behind McDonalds,” Gore said “Then we had the carriers report at 7:30 to the parking lot. The clerks got in the back of the 18 wheeler and began handing out the mail.”
The mail addressed to locations inside the barricade was banded together and sent to Tyler. When the barricades were removed, the truck was returned to Athens.
At 12:30 p.m., one of the carriers called Gore and told him police had removed the barricades. Personnel returned to the office to get parcels, express mail and other items.
For many of the carriers it was a 12-hour delivery day. The dedication shown by the people on staff received his stamp of approval.
“I’m proud of every single employee of this post office” Gore said. “We had clerks, supervisors, everybody just chipped in and got it done.”
Malanders said he’s not only proud of the staff at the post office, but the city, county and state officials who worked together amicably and efficiently during the ordeal.
“I think the whole town should be proud of itself and I’m glad no one got hurt,” Malanders said.