That is certainly not a headline I ever thought I would write. Thousands of people attending MidWest Furfest, a large gathering of Furry enthusiasts, were forced to evacuate the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel when chlorine gas was found on the 9th floor of the hotel. 19 people were hospitalized, complaining of dizziness, while investigators found chlorine powder in a 9th floor stairwell. Authorities believe it was a deliberate attempt to cause harm.
The incident happened around 12:40 a.m. at the Hyatt, at 9300 West Bryn Mawr Avenue in Rosemont, according to a statement from the Rosemont Public Safety Department. First responders were called to investigate a noxious odor that was spreading across the ninth floor of the hotel, where a high level of chlorine gas was discovered in the air, the statement said.
Nineteen people were transported to nearby hospitals after complaining of nausea, dizziness and other medical problems, according to the statement. All people inside the building were temporarily evacuated and sheltered at nearby facilities, including the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
At around 12:45 AM on Sunday, December 7, the Hyatt Regency O’Hare received a complaint of a chemical odor on the ninth floor. Following a 9-1-1 call, first responders determined that a container with a chlorine-containing chemical was broken there. At 1:10 AM the entire hotel was evacuated, first across Bryn Mawr Ave. in front of the Hyatt as per Rosemont Fire Department’s standard procedures, then when it became apparent that the wait would take longer the Stephens Convention Center was opened to provide warmth and shelter to our guests. A full HazMat response was called in at that time.
In the course of investigating the scene, the Rosemont Police Department determined that this was a criminal act and began investigating it as such. This delayed allowing our guests back into the hotel. Midwest FurFest is deeply thankful for the cooperation and patience shown during this time, and please know that everyone was working to get you back into the hotel as quickly as possible. At 4:21 AM the all-clear was given and we worked with the Hyatt staff to return all of our guests to the hotel in the quickest and safest manner possible.
Rosemont Public Safety has reported that nineteen people who complained of nausea and dizziness were transported to local hospitals. Because they were transported after the hotel (including Hyatt staff) was evacuated, we do not have any identification of these individuals. We have been informed by the Hyatt Regency O’Hare that some of those individuals have been released as of this morning.
As we wake up today we want to continue to provide the best possible convention that we can, despite the trying circumstances. The convention will be running on a full normal programming schedule today. We ask you to continue to be patient, and remember that the volunteers who make Midwest FurFest happen intend to give 110% to make sure that the fun, friendship, and good times of Midwest FurFest 2014 overshadow last night’s unfortunate incident.
To dispel rumors: Because this was an unforeseen possibly criminal act, Midwest FurFest will not be offering refunds, nor will the Hyatt Regency O’Hare be comping any rooms. Any further questions should be referred to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As numerous news videos and photos (and the tweet below) show, the occasion of a convention full of 4000 furries, many of them in full costume being forced to flood out into the street is one that….it captures the imagination. While we are allowed to silently marvel at the scene, it shouldn’t be forgotten that chlorine gas can be very harmful—it’s one of the chemical weapons that is banned in warfare, for instance—and can cause many respiratory problems and skin irritations. So this was a real attempt to harm, if it was deliberate. The idea of people having a good time at a convention being assaulted with the kind of thing you thought only dictators and terrorists used is pretty alarming to everyone. I’ve long been dreading some kind of “incident” at a con—this one seems to have been less harmful than possibly intended. But it is bizarre and disturbing.
That said, it seems the show went on and good times were had. And just to add the final soupçon of irony, the furries who were evacuated to the Donald S. Stephens center found a dog grooming show going on. When Furry meets furry…
— Rucio MWGF Donkey (@RucioDonk) December 7, 2014
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.