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Sewer gas forces 2,000 to evacuate St. Pete Beach church during Mass

ST. PETE BEACH — About 2,000 parishioners at St. John Vianney Catholic Church were evacuated in the midst of a Palm Sunday Mass after a sewer gas leak made several people sick.

Eight people were treated for dizziness, nausea and fatigue in the incident. Four people had to be hospitalized. All had been treated and released by Sunday afternoon.

Hazardous-materials crews found low levels of methane in the building and St. Pete Beach Fire Department officials suspect a sanitary line backed up, causing the gas to enter the church.

Lt. Lori Lyons said methane levels did not reach critical levels, but were apparently enough to make people sick.

Lenny Romano, a church usher and retired civil engineer, said it's not uncommon for methane to come into the church.

"It happens all the time here," he said. "It's been happening off and on for five years."

Romano, who has been at the church for about 15 years, said the gas smells like rotten eggs.

The church was evacuated nearly two-thirds of the way through the crowded Mass about 10:30 a.m.

After hearing that the church needed to be evacuated, Father John Blum asked parishioners to exit "quietly and carefully." Mass continued in nearby building.

Sewer gas forces 2,000 to evacuate St. Pete Beach church during Mass 04/17/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 17, 2011 9:07pm]
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