VIDEO: Chaos! - Mystery fumes cause panic in Kingston

Mystery fumes knock out dozens of people, spark confusion in Kingston

BY KIMMO MATTHEWS Observer staff reporter matthewsk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 28, 2013

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THE island's environmental management agency was last night still trying to determine the source of noxious fumes that resulted in more than 50 persons, some of whom collapsed, being rushed to hospital in Kingston.

The mystery fumes also caused discomfort to many more persons in the vicinity of the Central Sorting Office (CSO) on South Camp Road, plunging the area into chaos for a few hours.

Several businesses in the area were forced to close, classes were suspended at nearby schools, and persons were evacuated from the CSO building as the police restricted traffic movement from East Queen Street to South Camp Road in an effort to protect people from potential harm.

At the same time, firefighters, medical personnel and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) officials tried to find the source of the fumes.

"The report that we received is that at about 10:00 am workers (from the CSO) raised an alarm after several of their colleagues started to complain that they were having difficulty breathing," Post Master General Michael Gentles said as police tried to restore calm and provide quick help for affected individuals.

That, however, did not prevent people from panicking as CSO workers and curious onlookers began to collapse.

"Jesus Christ, what is happening? Somebody tell us what is going on, nuh!" screamed one woman as her colleague fainted.

The woman, who used a handkerchief to cover her nose, was one of several frightened-looking CSO employees seen running around as medical officials rushed several persons to ambulances.

Police at the scene said medical officials made at least six trips to the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH).

"The hospital ambulances were filled with people complaining that they were finding it difficult to breath," one policeman told the Jamaica Observer.

That was confirmed by a medical official at the KPH who asked not to be named, as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

He said a large group of persons suffering from dizzy spells and respiratory problems were taken to the hospital.

Yesterday, senior KPH officials declined to give more information on the issue, directing the Observer to the Ministry of Health. However, efforts to get a comment from ministry officials were unsuccessful.

News of the incident also created concern among persons as far as Half-Way-Tree and Cross Roads as they were heard asking if it was safe to venture close to the area.

Several persons also used social media to tell family and friends to stay away from the area which was visited by Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell and his state minister Julian Robinson.

Amidst the chaos, medical personnel appealed to persons to leave the area.

"People, please leave the area, it is not safe," said one medical official who was wearing a dust mask.

The medical personnel soon got assistance from the police, who quickly cordoned off the area .

At about 4:00 pm, NEPA allowed workers limited access to the CSO building, even as the agency said it was unable to determine the source of the fumes.

"I have spoken to the post master general and I have spoken to my team on the ground but they have not been able to ascertain the source of the fumes," said Peter Knight, chief executive officer of NEPA.

Assistant Commissioner of Police for Area Four, George Quallo yesterday said based on information from NEPA the CSO would resume activities today with limited access being allowed to the building.

The police also said schools that suspended classes because of the incident were being asked to assess the situation and make a decision as to the resumption of classes today.

   


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