Suspected Gas Leak at Lees-McRae Sends Some Students to Hospitals Early Friday Morning

Last Updated on August 30, 2019 6:10 am

Update Sept 1 – Lees-McRae issued the following statement on Saturday Aug 31:

BANNER ELK — In the early morning hours of Friday, Aug. 30, Avery Residence Hall at Lees-McRae College was evacuated for a suspected gas leak.

The Banner Elk Volunteer Fire Department received the call at 12:29 a.m. and joined college personnel in evacuating the building. Students were moved to the Cannon Student Center for examination by the responding EMS teams.

Approximately 70 students were later transported to area hospitals, where they were treated with symptoms commonly associated with exposure to carbon monoxide. By midday, all students were released by local medical personnel.

During the initial evacuation and subsequent sweeps, hardwired detectors in the building, and those worn by first responders were not triggered to elevated carbon monoxide levels. All devices were tested and found to be operational.

Investigations continued throughout the day by county inspectors, utilities representatives, professional contractors, and college facilities staff. No natural gas leaks were found and this was eliminated as the possible cause.

Additional testing has concluded that all equipment is normally functioning, with the release of carbon monoxide below regulatory limits. Officials have not been able to replicate the conditions that led to the initial evacuation.

During inspections, an unrelated code violation was found in a natural gas regulator by Avery County Director of Inspections and Planning Tommy Burleson, and Burleson asked that additional ventilation measures be taken to address that separate issue.

“The Avery County Inspection department and the Avery County Fire Marshall feel that all appropriate measures have been taken, from testing of individual equipment units, to canvassing all residential sleeping areas, to ensuring that we addressed this separate concern,” Burleson said. “We have issued a certificate of compliance so the building can return to operation.”

Given the official clearances, Lees-McRae will open Avery Residence Hall for residents at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31.

The additional ventilation measure Burleson noted was installed by contractors from Asheville, North Carolina on Saturday, Aug. 31 while the building remained unoccupied. Out of abundance of caution, nine new hardwired carbon monoxide detectors were installed in Avery Residence Hall. Additional detectors are being installed in the sleeping rooms of all residence halls on campus.

Lees-McRae President Lee King spoke about the incident and expressed his gratitude for the quick response.

“Our students obviously experienced health impacts related to this event,” King said. “Despite not being able to pinpoint a direct source, the safety of our students is our top priority. The additional monitoring equipment being installed this weekend exceeds all North Carolina building codes and standards. Student safety at Lees-McRae is paramount.”

Additionally, King adds that, “I have nothing but the highest respect and appreciation for this entire community as we have worked through this incident. The initial emergency response, the support of regional medical services, and the combined efforts of professional contractors and local officials show the real strength of this community. I am also grateful for the resiliency, patience, and character exhibited by our students and staff throughout this event.”

Update 9:07am – Vicki Stevens, with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, tells that 67 patients were evaluated at Cannon Memorial Hospital and 32 patients at Watauga Medical Center. No serious injuries are being reported.

Update 8:29am – Some students have returned to the school. Students are now in the student center and the cause is still being determined, according to a report from Rose Eiklor of Spectrum News.

A suspected gas leak has lead to some Lees-McRae students being sent to local hospitals early Friday morning.

Lee King, president of Lees-McRae, tells WJHL News Channel 11 that Avery Hall was evacuated early Friday morning due to a suspected gas leak.

Some students have been transported to area hospitals for additional observation and treatment, King went on to tell the TV station.

This story is developing and will have more information as it becomes available.

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