PACKED tourist hotspot Beachy Head was evacuated and 238 people “decontaminated” in hospital after a mystery “chemical mist” blew in from the sea.
Hundreds more beachgoers were left suffering stinging eyes and breathing difficulties after fleeing the East Sussex coast this afternoon.
Beachgoers complain of ‘burning eyes’ following gas leak near Beachy Head
Eastbourne District General Hospital was forced to declare a “major incident” as staff in hazmat suits and treated inside pop-up “decontamination” tents.
Witnesses have reportedly said patients were made to change clothes and hosed down as an extra precaution, according to MailOnline.
Dramatic pictures show the unusual smog lingering above the sea before moving inland towards revellers enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend weather at about 5pm on Sunday.
Beachgoers reported suffering stinging eyes, throat irritation and breathing difficulties, while some had been physically sick.
Police later confirmed the effects of the gas cloud were “mostly minor” and it was ” not necessary to admit anyone for further treatment.”
The unknown gas cloud is feared to have spread further along the south coast, with people reporting symptoms as far away as Kent and Surrey.
Officers urged residents living along the coast to keep remain indoors with windows and doors shut.
Footage has emerged showing people packing up their things and leaving the beach while rubbing their eyes.
Jonathan Hill tweeted: “Thought it was hay fever to start with until we were told to close all windows and doors just now!”
Rebecca said: “Nice day at Birling Gap beach turned into a nightmare.. some sort of chlorine gas leak has made my eyes red raw :(”
Another Twitter user said: “Chlorine gas has spread in Birling Gap in Sussex. Police & fire brigade have evacuated everyone. Not great scenes.”
Sameer said: “Birling Gap some weird gas leak. People crying. Ambulances called. Don’t go to Birling Gap at the moment.”
A Sussex Police spokesperson said: “Patients were dealt with as a precaution with a full decontamination treatment, but it became clear that this was not necessary.
“Anyone suffering the effects are advised by Public Health England to irrigate their eyes if they are irritated and to wash all over with plenty of soap and water, which will be sufficient to decontaminate their bodies.
“If you were affected and after taking the precautions recommended you still feel ill, contact 111 for advice and only visit your local A&E if you are still suffering significant effects.”
They added: “While the nature of the gas hasn’t been established, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has advised that it is ‘extremely unlikely’ that it was chlorine, as was being suggested on social media.
“The effects, while uncomfortable, were not serious and an investigation is now under way by a number of agencies working in partnership to establish the source of the gas.
“It is believed that it came in from the sea, but this has not been confirmed and work continues to locate the cause.
“With another fine day expected for Bank Holiday Monday, thousands of people are expected to flock to the coast once again.
“The situation will continue to be monitored, but it is believed that this was an isolated incident and is not expected to recur.”
Healthcare worker Sasaha Hyland, from Eastbourne, told the Hastings Observer the mist had affected her dogs.
She said: “They are going mad now, I can’t believe it. My eyes are terrible.”
Jan Haydock, who lives in nearby East Dean, told the newspaper her family had to abandon a barbecue because of the haze.
Emergency services arrive at Birling Gap in Sussex following chemical gas leak
She said: “My eyes are still stinging now.
“We can see the haze from here. It is certainly coming in.”
East Sussex’s Chief Inspector Bruce Mathews said there had been initial reports there had been a fire at Birling Gap.
He told BBC News: “I know with previous incidents that we’ve had here there’s been incidents where stuff has come across from industrial units in France.
“We’re going to work with our agencies to try and find out where this has all come from.”
The coastguard worked to clear the pathways of walkers, while the beach was completely evacuated, as well as searching the coastline from a lifeboat.
The Newhaven lifeboat crew were launched at 5.40pm to search for the source of substance.
A statement from the volunteer group said: “The lifeboat crew searched from the start of the westerly side of the Severn Sisters through to Beachy Head where they rendezvous with Eastbourne lifeboat and then both lifeboats conducted a reciprocal search.
Mist descends upon Birling Gap near Beachy Head in Sussex after chemical gas leak
“During the search, Newhaven lifeboat stopped and talked to vessels in the area to ensure everyone on board was ok and checked the beaches for persons that may have been affected by the substance.”
The lifeboat returned to station 8.20pm.
The RNLI said that “possibly some kind of gaseous fumes” had drifted over the scene and a significant number of people on cliff tops had been struck down with symptoms including irritation, sore eyes and vomiting.
Fears from the coastguard that people could be trapped on the beach saw the RNLI launch all-weather lifeboats from Eastbourne and Newhaven to the Birling Gap area.
Medical tent outside Eastbourne Hospital to help people affected by chemical haze in Sussex
Affected by the fumes? Medics offer advice after mysterious Beachy Head ‘haze’ leaves people with ‘stinging eyes and sore throats’
The South East Coast Ambulance Service is advising those suffering symptoms such as stinging eyes to wash with copious amounts of water.
The ambulance service say those with any serious concerns should seek medical advice.
People are urged not to go to hospital unless an absolute emergency.
Emergency services are urging people to stay indoors with windows and doors shut and where possible, move away from the area.
There was a doctor on board the Eastbourne lifeboat.
A spokesman said: “We have been checking along the shoreline to try and ensure that everyone is safe.”
He said a “plume” had drifted across the area bringing “some sort of substance” with it which seemed to affect a number of people.