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December 08, 2014 12:50 PM

Nineteen people were hospitalized when an incident involving chlorine gas disrupted the Midwest FurFest convention at the Hyatt hotel in Rosemont, Illinois, early Sunday.

The Chicago Tribune reports that first responders were called to investigate a noxious odor on the hotel’s ninth floor and discovered high levels of chlorine gas in the air.

The building was evacuated, and 19 people, with a variety of medical problems stemming from exposure to the gas, were transported to nearby hospitals.

This past weekend, the Hyatt was hosting the Midwest FurFest, an annual celebration of – in the convention’s website’s words – “Furry fandom, that is, art, literature, and performance based around anthropomorphic animals.”

The fest draws thousands of attendees each year, according to its website.

As for the source of the gas, technicians discovered a quantity of what appeared to be powdered chlorine in a stairwell on the ninth floor. After the area was decontaminated, people were allowed back into the building around 4:20 a.m. Sunday.

Some of the attendees, still dressed as animals, remained outside.

Morgan Smejkal and Chris Delaney traveled from Iowa to attend the FurFest. “It was shocking,” Smejkal, dressed in a red panda suit, told the Tribune as she stood outside the hotel.

Rosemont police are investigating the incident as a criminal matter, according to a statement they released, noting that the manner by which the chlorine was released “suggest[ed] an intentional act.”

Midwest FurFest continued through Sunday evening, said event organizers, adding: “We ask you to continue to be patient, and remember that the volunteers who make Midwest FurFest happen intend to give 110 percent to make sure that the fun, friendship and good times of Midwest FurFest 2014 overshadow last night’s unfortunate incident.”

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