GIRARD, IL (KTVI) – Nearly 150 people, mostly children, were taken to Illinois hospitals after a carbon monoxide leak in a small town middle school. It happened in the town of Girard, about half an hour south of Springfield. School officials say is was a normal Monday at North Mac Middle school until a little before 9am. It was then that students suddenly started complaining of dizziness and nausea.
“The lunch teachers I think started fainting randomly. And that’s when we found out about the(leak),” seventh grader Gabriel Pierett said. “Near second hour at our school, and everyone started feeling nauseous and fainting and stuff like that.”
The school superintendent was called to the nurse’s office.
“I was met with probably 5,6, maybe 10 students and you could easily tell something was not right. We decided at that point, we evacuated the building,” Marica Cullen said.
As kids were evacuated, workers were quick to find the source of the trouble.
“We had a gas water heater and a flue broke loose on it. Repair crews are on site. We’ve got fans running and you’ll see this is one of the most open schools in the country right now as we try to air it out,” Cullen said.
Soon ambulances were being brought in from three counties, checking kids out, or transporting them to hospitals. Parents, meanwhile, were receiving emergency notifications.
“Everybody’s terrified. Everybody’s terrified,” Floyd Watson said as he brought his nephew to a triage area for treatment. “There’s parents that caught wind of it and a lot of them don’t know yet.”
At Springfield Memorial Hospital, Heather Kaydus described the moment she heard what was happening.
“I balled like a baby. I balled like a baby. I was like, okay, gotta go. No forewarning to my work. I’ve got to go.”
147 people were taken to four area hospitals, but only a handful had to go beyond the emergency room. Emergency managers say they’re lucky it wasn’t worse.
“Carbon monoxide is a silent killer because you don’t realize you’re absorbing it,” Macoupin County Emergency Management Director Jim Pitchford said. “Carbon monoxide can kill you if the exposure is long enough. There were people taken to the hospital who were not in critical condition but very serious condition.”
The water heater that caused all the trouble was last checked this past spring. It passed inspection.
School officials say the entire district will be shut down on Tuesday.