More than 130 people have been hospitalised in the UK after they complained of breathing difficulties following a suspected chemical leak along the country’s south-east East Sussex coast. Birling Gap beach had to be evacuated yesterday after people reported breathing difficulties, stinging eyes and vomiting when a mystery “mist” appeared.
“This seems to have been caused by an unknown haze coming in from the sea, but the source has not yet been established. Emergency services are treating people at Birling Gap and clearing the area,” Sussex Police said, confirming that they were investigating the cause of the incident.
“People living along the coast in the area have been advised to keep doors and windows shut and to move away from the Birling Gap area in particular,” police said. Police also issued a warning that the “plume of gas” appears to be shifting eastwards towards Hastings.
The “mist” is believed to have come in from the sea, with previous incidents involving something coming over from an industrial unit in France. By last mist, 233 patients had been treated at Eastbourne District General Hospital where they were being “decontaminated on site” by hospital staff.
Officials said the effects, while uncomfortable, were not serious, and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said it was “extremely unlikely” the substance involved was chlorine. “Birling Gap some weird gas leak. People crying. Ambulances called. Don’t go to Birling Gap at the moment,” Sameer Jadhav, an Indian-origin, holidaymaker tweeted.
Kyle Crickmore, who was at the Birling Gap beach with his family, said it emptied in 10 minutes after people began to feel unwell. He described how a “foggy haze rolled in out of nowhere” and there was a “strong smell of chlorine in the air”.
“It was definitely out of the ordinary considering it was a nice, clear, sunny day 10 minutes beforehand,” he told the BBC. Thousands of people are expected to head to the coast again today, which is a UK-wide holiday.
The beaches in East Sussex are open as normal and there were no officers at the scene by today. “We need to find out the cause, where did this come from, and to make sure that steps are taken so that it does not happen again. I have not heard of it happening before in this area” said Eastbourne councillor Kathy Ballard.