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Ammonia Spill Forces Evacuation in Iowa

November 29, 2004

WEST LIBERTY, Iowa (AP) _ Fumes from an ammonia spill at an eastern Iowa meat processing plant Sunday forced the evacuation of a three-block area surrounding the plant and made at least five residents ill.

Fire Chief Curt Newcomb said residents from around the West Liberty Foods plant were taken to an Iowa City hospital, but he did not know the severity of the injuries.

The spill at the plant, which employs more than 1,100 workers, was blamed on a mechanical failure in a refrigeration unit, according to a statement from Gerald Lessard, vice president of operations.

The failure was repaired and no meat products were affected, the statement said. The plant is a supplier to Subway sandwich restaurants.

Analy Martinez, 16, and about 10 other family members were told to leave their home about 8 a.m. ``We could smell the ammonia, it was kind of strong,″ Martinez said. ``I was sick to my stomach and had a headache for about three hours.″

Mayor Bill Phelps was among those evacuated. ``Everything went very smoothly and according to the emergency plan,″ he said.

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