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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Almost 100 people received medical treatment after inhaling a toxic mixture of chlorine and acid at the Club Hotel Eilat on Monday morning.
Emergency services say the vast majority of those taken to the city's Yoseftal Hospital complained of burning sensations in their eyes and a shortness of breath.
All of those treated were later released, with the exception of a five-year-old girl and a middle-aged woman who remain hospitalized in moderate condition.
Eilat Police have arrested three people, including a chlorine truck driver, who are suspected of accidentally pouring chlorine into an an acid tank in the hotel's underground parking lot. The three suspects are being interrogated under suspicion of criminal negligence. A further 30 people have been questioned by police as witnesses.
Shahar Zaid, spokesman of the Eilat Fire and Rescue Service, arrived on the scene with 11 other firefighters after receiving reports of a toxic cloud rising through the hotel.
"This was a result of human error. Someone mixed the chlorine and the acid, and a chemical reaction ensued," Zaid told The Jerusalem Post.
"As a result, a gas cloud was created in the engine station pump room which is situated in the hotel's underground parking lot. The gas rose up through the ventilation system to the pool area and into the rooms."
Zaid said "the entire hotel smelled of chlorine" when he arrived.
"Our first task was to evacuate the people from harm's way. Together with the Israel Police, we emptied the hotel."
Afterward, firefighters entered the pump room and sealed off the tanks which gave rise to the toxic cloud.
"The tanks were sealed but the chemical reaction went on. At that stage we merely prevented it from spreading," Zaid explained.
Firefighters then placed the tanks in a larger water tank to stop the chemical reaction and removed the tanks from the hotel, driving them out of the city to an unpopulated area.
"Using a large fan, we then pushed the toxic cloud away from the hotel, while using a pump to suck the gas out of the area and into another location," Zaid said. "We had to deal with 1,300 cubic liters of gas, which is a large amount. By that stage, we had taken control of the situation."
The Eilat Fire and Rescue Service is one of nine crews around the country that regularly drill toxic fumes scenarios, due to the service's remote location and difficulties in obtaining backup from other firefighters in time.
Romeo Roslesko, head of the Magen David Adom paramedic station in Eilat, said several ambulances had been mobilized to the hotel after a mass-casualty incident had been declared.
"The first wave of ambulances took 30 people to hospital, then a trickle of others who felt unwell were evacuated," he told the Post.
"There was no panic, everyone was calm. We were on the scene quickly," he said.
The concentration of toxic fumes is what determines the extent of injury following exposure, Roslesko said. "With this concentration, my initial estimate is that everyone was lightly affected, suffering not more than discomfort," he added.
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