GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Witnesses to a deadly nitrogen leak at a Gainesville poultry plant are describing the frightening chaos that unfolded Thursday afternoon.
“All of a sudden I just seen people running out of the building," recounted Jackie Reece, who works across the street from the Foundation Food Group processing plant..
He described how the the people he saw running outside were gasping for air.
"Two people fell out on the grass," Reese recalled. "Just collapsed.”
It was about 10 a.m. when emergency responders from Hall County and Gainesville got called to the Memorial Park Drive facility. While rushing to the plant, they quickly found out the horrific scope of the tragedy and danger awaiting them.
In audio from Broadcastify, obtained by 11Alive, dispatchers can be heard describing the emergency.
“We have a nitrogen leak in here, we have people down inside," the audio says. “We’ve got an active nitrogen leak, we have multiple DOAs.”
In all, six people died - five inside the plant. Another dozen - including several firefighters - people had to be taken to the hospital for respiratory issues, and 130 more had to be evacuated from the building to safety. As of Thursday night, all but one of those firefighters had been released. Three more of those hospitalized are still in critical condition.
Early signs point to the rupture of a nitrogen line inside the plant, according to Foundation Food Group spokesman Nicholas Ancrum.
Those who died were members of the maintenance, supervisory and management teams, Ancrum said. Their identities are not being released at this time.
“Our hearts go out to their families and communities that have suffered such a devastating loss," he said during a statement.
Ancrum said the company, which processes poultry at the plant, is cooperating with investigators. OSHA, and authorities from Hall County, believe the nitrogen line ruptured accidentally somehow, but they are investigating all possible causes.
Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said during an afternoon briefing the community, and his department, are heartbroken.
“All these folks that came into work today did not have any idea of what would happen, nor did their families. But here we are. So, that’s why I ask you for all your prayers," he said.
Reece, the witness, took his suggestion to heart.
“I’m like, ‘Lord, what’s going on?’ You know, it was just scary. Really it was scary. And I started praying," he said. "This world can’t take much more chaos.”