Carbon Monoxide Build Up Sends More than 100 to Area Hospitals

Carbon Monoxide Build Up Sends More than 100 to Area Hospitals
One Death May Be Related; Investigation Continues

Salem, Va. (July 14, 2006) -- A build up of carbon monoxide gas in Sections residence halls at Roanoke College, Salem, Va., early this morning sent more than 100 conference participants to area hospitals and may have contributed to one fatality.

Medical examiners have not yet determined the cause of death, but an elderly participant in a visiting conference for a Lutheran Synod group called Power in the Spirit has passed away. He was 91-year-old Walter J. Vierling of Pearisburg, Va. He had been staying at Sections with approximately 100 visitors from that conference as well as 37 teenagers who are on campus for a program called Upward Bound.

The incident began at about 6:40 a.m., when Campus Safety was notified that a woman in Sections was ill and had fallen. Campus Safety discovered others feeling sick in the building and at about 7 a.m. called Salem Emergency Medical Services. When EMS workers arrived, they called in the City of Salem Fire Department, which responded and detected high levels of carbon monoxide.

All who experienced symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure were transported by either ambulance or, if they had lesser symptoms, by Roanoke College vans to area hospitals for evaluation.

No Roanoke College students were affected in the incident, and as of 3:30 p.m., seven people were still being treated at local hospitals. Sixty-two people had been evaluated at Lewis Gale Medical Center, Salem, Va., and five are still there being evaluated and a woman is in critical condition. At Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Roanoke, Va., two of the 49 people who were evaluated are still under observation. In addition, three members of the Salem EMS were checked out at the hospital as a precautionary measure.

The investigation into the cause of the incident is continuing, but the city of Salem says it is focusing on a potential failure in the gas hot water system. Sections consists of three separate buildings: Wells, which was built in 1910; Yonce, built in 1913, and Fox, built in 1956. Sections was renovated in 1986.

“Our hearts go out to the family of Mr. Vierling at this most difficult time – as well as to our Lutheran family and those in Upward Bound,” said Teresa Gereaux, director of public relations for the College.

Dr. Sabine O’Hara, president of the College, was in Minnesota at the time of the incident but is returning to campus this evening.

Media inquiries: 540-375-2282, Teresa Gereaux, director of public relations