The leak of chlorine gas into a convention being held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel in Rosemount, Ill., is being described as “intentional” by authorities. The leak, which occurred early on Sunday morning, caused the evacuation of thousands of people from the hotel. Nineteen people were taken to the hospital to be treated.
A statement issued by the Rosemont Public Safety Department said the leak at the Hyatt hotel occurred at approximately 12:40 a.m. Emergency personnel were called to the premises by multiple hotel guests to investigate a pernicious odor present on the ninth floor, where chlorine gas was found to be present in the air at a high level. The entire building was evacuated to facilities located nearby. The nineteen people feeling the effects of the gas, which included nausea and dizziness, were taken to hospitals. The area was decontaminated and tested safe, and those who had been evacuated were given the go-ahead to re-enter the building at approximately 3:30 a.m.
The Hyatt hotel was hosting a yearly convention of the Midwest FurFest this weekend. The weekend gathering recognizes anthropomorphic animals in literature, art and performance, and draws thousands of convention-goers each year to its event, many of whom dress in animal costumes. The website for the FurFest boasted an attendance of 3,904 in 2013. CBS Chicago spoke with one convention-goer, who said the “big, fluffy costumes” were keeping the evacuees warm while they waited for the all-clear to re-enter the hotel.
The Chicago Tribune spoke with attendee Thomas Zell, 27. He said he had been with a group of people outside of the hotel entrance when the evacuation began. Zell, who has attended not only FurFest, but other conventions in the same hotel for multiple years, said at first the group thought that the fire alarm had been pulled, which has been a fairly common occurrence at the conventions in the past. At the time of the chlorine gas leak, the convention attendees had been spread throughout various areas in the hotel, many of whom were partying and dancing.
Two other guests of the Hyatt told The Tribune that they heard no alarms in their area of the hotel. They learned of the order to evacuate from hotel workers and via text messages from friends also staying at the hotel. The couple smelled the chlorine gas as they exited the building and described it as “pungent.”
Police are performing a criminal investigation of the leak. They believe the way the powdered chlorine was distributed through the air “suggests an intentional act.” The Associated Press reports that the source of the leak was discovered in a ninth floor stairwell. The website for the Midwest FurFest says the chlorine had been placed in a container and broken in the stairwell to release the fumes.
In a statement to the Daily Herald, hotel guest Zachary Adams, of Cleveland, Ohio, described the evacuation as orderly. Although the hotel was filled with people dressed in animal costumes, he said, “When things are serious, we can be serious.” He described the hotel, the convention staff and emergency services as “great.” Because the leak is considered a random, criminal act, neither the Hyatt nor the FurFest are offering refunds or other compensatory measures to guests.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo by Firr, cropped and reversed – License