GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Six people were killed and about a dozen more were hurt following a Gainesville hazmat situation involving liquid nitrogen, authorities said during an afternoon news briefing Thursday.
It happened at the Foundation Food Group poultry facility in Gainesville.*
According to Zachary Brackett of Hall County Fire Services, emergency responders got the call about 10 a.m. Thursday to the facility for "for a report of burns."
However, "once the units arrived they found a large contingent of employees that have evacuated along with multiple victims that were in that crowd experiencing medical emergencies," he said.
The initial response Thursday morning, caused emergency crews to close Memorial Park Drive from Browns Bridge Road to Atlanta Highway. They asked everyone to avoid the area and use alternate routes.
While there were initial concerns from the community that some sort of explosion had occurred, Brackett said that was not the case.
“No explosion has occurred," he said.
In a 3:30 p.m. update Thursday, officials did say it appeared that the situation stemmed from a ruptured nitrogen line used at the facility. The ensuing situation killed five employees at the scene, according to officials. A sixth, who was transported to the hospital, died while undergoing treatment.
Another 11 people were also taken to the hospital, including three Gainesville firefighters and a Hall County firefighter. Initial reports from authorities said that 10 people had to be taken to the hospital, however in a follow-up briefing, that number was corrected.
At last check on Thursday, of those being treated for injuries connected to the incident, seven were treated and later released released, three were still deemed critical and the last was still "fair." All of their injuries were "respiratory in nature," according to Sean Couch, with the Northeast Georgia Health System.
Of the fire crews who had to be taken to the hospital, Brackett said that all but one were released. The last firefighter was still being observed for breathing issues and would likely be released Friday, he said.
Meanwhile, another 130 employees of the facility were taken to a near-by church for medical evaluation.
In the update, Couch, with the NGHS, said those who had already been triaged and checked my emergency responders were clear to go home. However, he stressed that "if anyone feels like they haven't had adequate medical care or if they have any questions or concerns about their medical care, I urge them to follow up with their physician," adding if they feel like they are having a medical emergency, to immediately call 911.
Photo: 6 killed in Gainesville liquid nitrogen leak
Now that the immediate threat is over, officials are turning their attention to the investigation into what happened.
Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted a statement saying Georgia Emergency Management, the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are at the scene assisting with the investigation and local response.
According to the Hall County Sheriff's Office, fire crews secured the scene and recovered the victims who died inside the facility. Members of the sheriff's office, as well as OSHA, were now going through the facility.
In a statement, the Vice President of HR for Foundation Food Group, Nicholas Ancrum, called what happened a "tragic accident."
"While we wait for wait for confirmation, we are very sad to say that six team members appear to have died, and others were taken to the hospital with very serious injuries," he said.
According to Ancrum, those who died included maintenance, supervisory and management team members.
Friday morning, the Hall County Sheriff's Office released the names of the six people who died: Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, Corey Alan Murphy, Nelly Perez-Rafael, Saulo Suarez-Bernal, Victor Vellez, and Edgar Vera-Garcia.
"Every team is equally important to us and our hearts go out to their families and communities who have suffered such a devastating loss," Ancrum said Thursday. "We ask you to please join your thoughts and prayers for these team members, their families, friends, and coworkers, as we all cope with this terrible loss today."
Ancrum said the company has notified to appropriate authorities and is making "every resource available for a thorough investigation."
"Foundation Food Group takes workplace safety very seriously and works constantly to adopt and implement the most affective safety programs available in the industry," he said.
According to records with OSHA, however, the company was previously investigated for an amputation at the facility. Records show it has another pending case open, however the details of that investigation were unclear.
Meanwhile, in his statement, Gov. Kemp asked for the support of all Georgians during this time.
"Marty, the girls, and I ask all Georgians to join us in praying for the families facing a terrible loss and the other employees who are receiving medical care," Kemp said. "May God be hand of peace, comfort, and healing in the days ahead."
*Editor's note: In a later news conference, authorities clarified that the company that owns the facility was Foundation Food Group, after a name-change earlier this year from Prime Pak Foods. This story has been updated to reflect the name change.