Mystery Incident Evacuates Publix

LUTZ, Fla. - A Publix supermarket in Lutz, Fla., was evacuated on Monday after customers complained of breathing difficulties, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times. No one was seriously hurt, and no cause was determined.

Customers complained of a burning sensation in their throats. "There was no cloud or anything, but you could taste it and feel the burning," said Jaime Sternick, 27. "There was a gritty, kind of metallic taste to it."

It affected 25 people, including six who were taken to hospitals. But by the time a hazardous materials team arrived 20 minutes later, no problem was detectable. The store reopened about 4:45 p.m.

The patients were initially kept at the Publix in case they were found capable of contaminating a hospital, spokesmen for Hillsborough Fire-Rescue said. Patients were later taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and University Community Hospital. A UCH spokeswoman said Monday evening that the patients at that hospital were being evaluated and would likely be released.

Firefighters in hazardous materials suits prowled through the supermarket with equipment to measure gases. The meters read negative for nerve agents, blister agents, gas fumes, freon, ammonia and metal oxides such as hair spray, said Richard Rigdon, a member of the team.

Finally the firefighters removed their protective equipment and breathed the suspect air for themselves. They suffered no symptoms, Rigdon said.

The manager declined to comment to the newspaper, and no other Publix officials could be reached.
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