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At Least 120 Hospitalized by Carbon Monoxide Release at Motel

July 2, 1990

SPICER, Minn. (AP) _ Carbon monoxide leaking from an exhaust pipe on a hot tub furnace spread through a motel Sunday, sending at least 120 people to the hospital. None of the injuries was serious.

Some guests at the Cazador Inn were found passed out in their rooms.

One hundred twenty people, including firefighters, motel guests and employees, were treated at Rice Memorial Hospital in nearby Willmar, authorities said. Some were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

A nursing supervisor said 130 to 140 people were treated, with 60 to 90 receiving oxygen.

Some of the victims were held for as long as two hours, but all were released Sunday.

Many of the 90 guests registered at the two-story, 33-room motel were visiting for the Independence Day celebration in the town of 600 people about 90 miles west of Minneapolis.

Dozens of the guests were treated initially on the front lawn of the motel, authorities said.

″There were people passed out all over,″ said guest Betty Elliot of Renville. ″Then they started carrying kids out, it was unbelievable. It was the scariest thing I have ever been through.″

Elliot said some of her friends were found sick in their room.

″They looked terrible,″ Elliot said. ″When I saw my friends, I thought they were dying. They thought they were both having heart attacks.″

Officials said they had tentatively identified the cause of the gas release as a leaky exhaust flue on a furnace that heats water for the building’s hot tub.

Authorities arrived at the motel shortly after 8 a.m. responding to a call that a woman was sick, emergency technician Bryan Reichel said.

″When we got there, the other people in the room were sick, too, and others were complaining of nausea and headaches,″ Reichel said.

Firefighters then made a room-by-room sweep.

″People were just waking up and realizing they were sick,″ he said. ″I was walking down the hall and kept saying, ’More ambulances. More ambulances‴ into his walkie-talkie.

Fire and ambulance crews from four area towns and counties were called in to help, authorities said, as were 50 to 60 off-duty hospital employees, said Rice Hospital Controller Lester Halverson.

Officials said the carbon monoxide may have began seeping into the motel as early as Thursday or Friday. All the motel guests and employees were taken to the hospital for examination.

″Anyone that was exposed to the elements in the air, we took them in and had them checked over,″ Reichel said.

Carol Nash, a housekeeper at the motel, said she didn’t feel well during her shift Saturday.

″I was dizzy and had a headache with hot and cold chills,″ she said. ″I thought it was because it was hot and I hadn’t eaten.″

Typically, signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, headaches, grogginess, loss of motor senses and spotty skin, Reichel said. The gas can be fatal.

Some guests were critical of the motel’s handling of the incident.

″They said their staff had been having headaches since Friday,″ said Marilyn Tewes of Hutchinson. ″Why did they wait until today? That’s just terrible. You’d think they’d check it every day.″

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