Several hospitalized after refrigerant leak at Market Basket in Rowley

Several hospitalized after freon leak in Rowley Market Basket, police say

ROWLEY, Mass. — Several people were sickened by a refrigerant leak inside a Market Basket in Rowley, Massachusetts Thursday afternoon, according to the police department.

EMS officials told Boston 25 News that 9 people had been taken to area hospitals for further evaluation. There were at least 25 people being checked out on the scene.

Police tweeted about the situation, saying the leak was contained shortly after 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Officials initially responded to reports of a gas leak at the grocery store, but it was later determined that refrigerant had leaked from an ice machine in the store.

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"We had a report of a gas leak originally in the building and people having difficulty breathing," said Rowley Fire Chief James Broderick.

"All of a sudden I couldn't breathe," said Sharon Anderson, who was inside the Market Basket at the time of the leak. "I was coughing and gasping and trying to figure what was happening to me."

An employee directed her to the door and warned her to get out of the store.

The store shut down for the day after the incident and officials said it would reopen for normal hours on Friday, beginning at 7 a.m. Officials said all sicknesses were believed to be non-life-threatening.

Boston 25 News spoke to four of the eight shoppers who were rushed to the hospital. They told us that they were just going about their day and getting groceries when, suddenly, their throats started itching and their eyes were watery.

Then came the announcement: everyone please leave.

"We couldn't breathe, it was so bad. Choking, coughing," said Marie Berrabah Pastos, who had just finished grocery shopping at that Market Basket on Route 1 late Thursday afternoon when she started feeling ill.

"I was in the tomatoes, vegetable aisle," said Carol Nunes, who was with her caretaker in the store before being rushed to Newburyport's Anna Jaques Hospital. "I'm a little slow right now, I'm a cancer patient."

Nunes, who has stage 4 cancer, tried to evacuate quickly.

As dozens of shoppers were in the store, the sound of the announcement and a strange smell overwhelmed them.

"It was burning in the throat, and tightness in the chest," said Vanessa Gotts. "My throat was hurting."

Gotts and her 8-year-old son are both diabetics and are just thankful they're OK. "They did blood work and an EKG, and everything came back normal," she said.

The leak was contained to the Market Basket, emergency officials said, but the entire plaza was evacuated as a precaution.