'Irritant' causes evacuation of Wal-Mart

Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

SUMMERFIELD — Rescue workers treated 29 people in connection with a hazardous materials situation at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Summerfield, after shoppers reported trouble breathing.

"Of those 29, eight were transported. Four were taken to Villages Regional; four were taken to Leesburg Regional," said EMSA spokesman Randy Robinson. He said one patient was classified as needing advanced life support.

"Seventeen were treated and released at the scene. We still have four left at the scene," he said.

Two patients were taken to Munroe Regional Medical Center — a pregnant woman and her young son.

In general, the symptoms were a scratchy throat and respiratory distress, according to officials on the scene.

Ann Moschera of The Villages said she was walking down an aisle that sold shoe racks when she suddenly started coughing.

"All of a sudden, you just start coughing," she said, adding that she saw another woman who started coughing.

Hours later, she said, "My throat is still sore."

The call first went out at about 4 p.m. The store was evacuated.

At 5 p.m., Marion County Fire-Rescue firefighters were putting on protective gear to go inside to see what was causing the problem. Employees turned on the ventilation systems and opened the doors. Later, Hazmat workers donning white plastic suits, orange boots and breathing equipment, entered the store with equipment designed to spot the source of the problem.

Firefighters were not sure if it was a leaky chemical product, or some other source. It was being classified as an "irritant," said Heather Danenhower, a spokeswoman with Fire-Rescue. The fumes were coming from the southeast corner of the 185,000-square -foot store, where a lube and oil center is located. The store is at 17861 S. U.S. 441.

The problem could be related to an act of vandalism involving pepper spray Tuesday night, said Kory Lundberg, a media spokesman for the Wal-Mart corporation. The store was aired out last night, Lundberg said.

"That's one of the things we're looking at right now," Lundberg said.

Later, however, Hazmat team members said they found traces of ammonia. Ammonia is a component of pepper spray, according to EMSA. But the ammonia seemed to be coming from the garden center and the amount detected would be commonly found in the area that houses fertilizer, officials said.

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