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Toxic Cloud in Palm Springs Forces Evacuation of 1,000

Times Staff Writer

About 1,000 people were evacuated from houses and businesses and the airport was closed for about three hours after a fire in a swimming pool chemical firm produced a toxic cloud that spread over a wide area of northeast Palm Springs Friday, authorities reported.

Thirteen people, including three firefighters, were treated by ambulance crews for breathing problems and burning eyes, but no serious injuries were reported, city spokeswoman Ann Erdman said.

Lt. Mike McCabe of Palm Springs police said the department was receiving “dozens of complaints from citizens reporting dry throats, nausea and other ailments.”

An American Red Cross evacuation center was set up at the Raymond Cree Middle School and an estimated 50 people had sought refuge there until the all clear was given to return to their homes at about 9:30 p.m.

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“I could smell the chlorine in the air. It made my nose burn and it gave me a slight headache,” said Hazel Reed of Bakersfield, who is vacationing at a condominium in the evacuated area.

“When my chest started hurting, that’s when I decided to leave my home,” said Donna Winters.

The area affected was bounded by Tahquitz-McCallum Way, the Municipal Airport, Farrell Drive, and Vista Chino.

The fire, which broke out in a warehouse owned by Ocean Pool Mart, was quickly contained. But a Riverside County fire official said hazardous material squad firefighters were “expected to be on the scene all night.”

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Among the materials at the site was chlorine, a poisonous chemical used as a bleaching agent in water purification and other purposes.

The city’s busy airport was closed to commercial and private flights for three hours but only slight delays were encountered by commercial passengers.

The cloud recalled two chemical leaks over the Labor Day weekend at a Los Angeles-area pool chemical plant that forced evacuation of more than 30,000 people and injured 37.


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