ANCHORAGE -- Letters to Santa Claus mailed to the town of North Pole from all over the world will be opened this holiday season despite the anthrax scare, the U.S. Postal Service said Friday.
Postal staffers in Alaska had worried they would have to ignore the expected heaps of letters, which are usually answered under Santa's name by volunteers. The popular effort has brought joy to thousands of children for nearly 50 years.
Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., decided Thursday to let the tradition continue, said Scott Budny, Postal Service spokesman for the western regional office in Denver.
''It's an excellent project and serves a real need,'' Budny said. ''These people do a nice job for the Christmas spirit.''
Budny said the risk of anthrax exposure is considered virtually nil. The bacteria has contaminated several postal facilities in the Lower 48, killed four people and sickened more than a dozen others.
In all, however, only three letters have been confirmed as being contaminated by anthrax, Budny said.
''The Postal Service handles 680 million pieces of mail a day,'' he said. ''The chances are extremely remote that anyone would receive a letter similar to those three letters.''
As many as 60,000 Santa letters arrive in Alaska's Interior each year. Those with return addresses usually get personal replies and a North Pole postmark. Another 150,000 Christmas cards and packages pour in from outside the state each year from people who want their correspondence to bear the postmark.
Because of the large volume, most of the holiday mail is processed in Fairbanks, 14 miles northwest of North Pole, population 1,570.
''The anthrax situation has not come this way and we don't expect it to,'' said Nancy Cain Schmitt, Alaska spokeswoman for the Postal Service. ''We're not going to let it ruin our tradition of working with Santa and getting the letters opened and answered for children. We're not going to let it spoil their Christmas.''
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