WASHINGTON -- A bomb was set off on the ground floor of the U.S. Capitol early today, causing extensive damage and opening what Capitol Police Chief James Powell said appeared to be a "serious crack" in the already weakened west front.
There were no injuries in the explosion. It took place on the Senate side of the building, in an unmarked men's washroom usually used by senators, about 60 feet from an exhibit area immediately below the well of the Great Rotunda of the Capitol.
FBI agents, Washington and Capitol police and an Army bomb squad swarmed into the building. The area of the explosion was sealed off. Only persons with proper credentials were allowed into parts of the building.
Powell said the explosion occurred at about 1:30 a.m. EST. He said the Capitol switchboard received an anonymous call at 12:59 a.m. EST saying a bomb would go off in 30 minutes. Authorities refused to give details of the call.
The Capitol is normally open to visitors until 4:30 p.m. EST seven days a week. Anyone entering the building after that must show proper credentials and also must sign in or out. Authorities refused to speculate on how the bomber planted the explosives.
The effects of the blast were not visible outside the building, and apparently there was no damage to either the Senate or House chamber.
The rest room where the blast took place is located next to a Senate wing barbershop and near several small offices including an appropriations subcommittee room.
Immediately above the rest room on the main floor is the Senate disbursing office. On the other side of the floor above is the old Supreme Court chamber.
The Senate chamber, also on the floor above, is about 100 feet from damaged disbursing office.
The west wing of the Capitol, braced by huge beams because of its weakened condition, was damaged according to Powell. He said there "appeared to be a serious crack in the wall" of the west front.
Reporters were not allowed into the damaged area until about six hours after the explosion as FBI agents and other experts sifted through ankle-deep debris with wire screens in hopes of finding clues to the identity of the bomber and the type of bomb used.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield said that the blast would not affect today's Senate schedule, with the day's session beginning at 10 o'clock.