100 sick, 1 dies as gas leaks into Va. dorm

The Associated Press

SALEM, Va. — Carbon monoxide leaked into a college dormitory early Friday, killing a man and sickening more than 100 teenagers and adults attending summer programs at Roanoke College, the school said.

College spokeswoman Teresa Gereaux said the victims were taken to two Roanoke Valley hospitals in ambulances or vans after complaining of headaches, nausea, dizziness and shakiness.

An elderly man died before reaching the hospital, said Nancy May, a spokeswoman for Lewis-Gale Medical Center.

Others described the scene in the dorm Friday morning as chaotic.

"One woman fell on the floor in the bathroom," said Annabelle Minter, 80, of Richmond. Minter said she also felt "on the dizzy side" and was taken to a hospital, but her roommate was even sicker.

Of the 62 people taken to Lewis-Gale, five were admitted — one in critical condition and the others in fair condition — and four others were being evaluated, said Candi Carroll, director of emergency services. The woman in critical condition was "awake, alert and responding," said Dr. Robert Dowling.

At Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, spokesman Steve Munsey said five of the 49 people treated there might be admitted. Munsey said the patients, ages 15-82, were checked for carbon monoxide in their blood and given oxygen through face masks.

About 100 of the dormitory guests had traveled from across Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to attend Power in the Spirit, a three-day Lutheran conference. There were also 37 teenage girls from southwest Virginia staying there as part of the Upward Bound program, Gereaux said.

Those in the church group appeared to have been more severely affected, but it was due more to where they were located in the dorm than their age, Dowling said.

Shortly before dawn, people staying there called campus police from the dorm's emergency phone, and the police notified the Salem Fire Department.

The source of the carbon monoxide leak had not been located by noon, fire officials said.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that can cause sickness or death. Leaks in buildings typically come from furnaces, heaters and other gasoline-powered equipment. "It's essentially like drowning on the air," Dowling said.

Gereaux said the dormitory was built in the 1920s and renovated in the 1980s.

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