BLACKSBURG, Va. — A carbon-monoxide leak at an off-campus apartment building critically sickened two Virginia Tech students and sent 17 other persons to hospitals yesterday morning, police said.
Five women, all students, were found unconscious in their beds in a unit at the Collegiate Suites complex, Capt. Bruce Bradbery said.
Two were taken to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where they were in critical condition, he said. Their three roommates were taken to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
Late last night, the three 19-year-old sophomores were conscious and alert, and their conditions had been upgraded from serious to stable, a Duke hospital spokesman said.
Fourteen more persons were treated at hospitals and released, and a handful of others were treated on the scene, officials said.
One of the women taken to Charlottesville was identified as Kristin Julia, hospital spokeswoman Mary Jane Gore said. She was not permitted to release the identity of the second student.
Virginia Tech's Web site lists Miss Julia as a hospitality and tourism management major from Waterford in Loudoun County.
A resident of a nearby apartment felt sick and called the gas company, thinking there was a gas leak, Capt. Bradbery said. The employee realized it wasn't a gas leak and called police shortly after 11:15 a.m.
The gas company employee and a maintenance worker found the five women unresponsive and pulled them onto a second-story breezeway.
Kristin Carr, a sophomore from Centreville, said after someone knocked on her door to tell her of the danger, she and her three roommates left their ground-floor apartment, and she looked up to see women lying unconscious on the second-floor landing.
"That was definitely scary," she said.
Miss Carr said she later saw residents being carried out on stretchers from the second floor.
"Nobody's going back into this building to live until we get an independent contractor in here," Miss Carr said of the three-story, 12-apartment building popular with students. She said she had wanted to live there because the apartments are fairly new.
Miss Carr's boyfriend, Brett Hutcherson, a junior pre-med student from Lynchburg, said there were not enough paramedics to care for everyone at first, so he helped check victims' vital signs and rolled the sick onto their sides to enable them to breathe easier.
Capt. Bradbery said the cause of the leak appeared to be a faulty valve on the water heater in the women's four-bedroom apartment that was stuck open.
Readings taken by the Blacksburg Fire Department before noon showed carbon-monoxide levels of 500 parts per million in the apartment shared by the five women, Capt. Bradbery said. People experience symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning at levels as low as 25 parts per million, he said.
Residents were being housed in a hotel overnight.
The leak came the same day Virginia Tech dedicated a memorial to 32 persons killed by a student gunman in April. Fall semester classes begin today.
University spokesman Larry Hincker said he and Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger went to Montgomery Regional Hospital immediately after the ceremony to visit with the injured students. He said they appeared to be in good spirits.
"This is terrible. This is awful," said Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski. "We simply hope and pray that all students injured will recover."
Capt. Bradbery also was at the dedication ceremony when he got the call about the injuries.
"Enough's enough," he said. "We've got four kids here who are just clinging to life."