A six-mile segment of the East Sussex coastline has been evacuated and locals told to shut their doors and windows after a massive ‘chlorine cloud’ left 50 people with burning eyes and breathing problems.
The coastguard, police, ambulances and fire and rescue crews are all at the worst affected area, Birling Gap, near Beachy Head – a famous headland due to its 530ft drops and high suicide rates as Britain’s tallest chalk sea cliffs.
The bizarre cloud has crept inland along the coastline from Eastbourne to Birling Gap, part of Seven Sisters national park.
Up to 50 people have been affected by the cloud with symptoms including eye and throat irritation as well as vomiting.
A six-mile segment of the East Sussex coastline has been evacuated and locals told to shut doors and windows after a ‘chlorine cloud’ (above) left 50 people with burning eyes
Sussex Police said the source of the haze [pictured] is not yet known, but that people’s throats and eyes are being affected by the cloud
The coastguard, police and fire and rescue crews (pictured) are all thought to be present at Birling Gap near Beachy Head – a notorious spot for suicides
Up to 50 people were affected by the cloud at Birling Gap, part of Seven Sisters national park
The source of the haze is not yet known but lifeguards said it was ‘possibly some kind of gaseous fumes’.
Large queues have formed outside Eastbourne Hospital as it tries to cope with the influx of patients this evening – as the fire service asked people not to attend A&E unless absolutely necessary.
The coastline is a popular area with dog walkers and is a busy hotspot for tourists and locals enjoying the bank holiday weekend.
But an exodus of confused and worried beachgoers was sparked when police evacuated the area and closed several roads to stop people from driving nearer to the noxious plume.
Footage shared on social media shows people on the crowded beach packing up their things and rubbing their eyes as a hazy cloud appeared to drift in from the sea.
Fire and Rescue Officer in East Sussex Dawn Whittaker said on Twitter: ‘Public warned to avoid Birling Gap area as Emergency Services dealing with potential environmental issue. Many casualties.’
Jonathan Hill, 28, who lives in East Dean, half a mile from Birling Gap, had just arrived home from a holiday in Norfolk at around 5.15pm when he and his girlfriend Jade Stephens, 21, started to develop eye problems.
He told MailOnline: ‘It was strange really. My girlfriend struggles with hayfever so we thought it was that and decided to go and buy some medication.
‘I had been outside with the windows open watering the plants, and then my eyes started to sting as well.
Footage shared on social media shows people on the crowded beach packing up their things and rubbing their eyes as a hazy cloud appeared to drift in from the sea at Birling Gap, near Beachy Head (pictured) in East Sussex – Britain’s tallest chalk sea cliffs at 530ft high
Medics helped people at Birling Gap to wash their eyes and evacuate the beach this afternoon
Emergency services discuss the plan of action to deal with this evening’s developing incident
‘I had to wash my eyes loads with water just so that I could see clearly enough to drive. We went to turn away from our house in the car and were stuck in a queue.
‘I have never seen the road as busy as it was.’
The couple were stopped by a policeman who told them they would not be allowed to drive to Eastbourne unless they were happy to wait there for a while before it was safe to come home.
Mr Hill and Ms Stephens decided to go home, where they are now waiting with their doors and windows closed. Their eyes are still stinging and bloodshot.
The supermarket manager added: ‘The police were really good but they didn’t seem to have a clue what was going on.’
Steve Carson, commander with the UK Coastguard said: ‘We are working with the other emergency services in the area to help all those affected. Our Coastguard teams are out clearing the beaches. Please help us by leaving the beach if you are asked to.’
The South East Coast Ambulance Service has advised people to wash their eyes with copious amounts of water to relieve stinging.
Sameer Jadhav said on Twitter: ‘Birling Gap some weird gas leak. People crying. Ambulances called. Don’t go to Birling Gap at the moment.’
Footage (pictured) shared on social media shows people on the crowded beach packing up their things and rubbing their eyes as a hazy cloud appeared to drift in from the sea
Various people on social media have shared their experience of the strange cloud. Dan Sankey said: ‘Beautiful afternoon at Birling Gap cut short by some weird mist, burning everyone’s eyes’
Fears from the coastguard that people could be trapped on the beach saw the RNLI launch all-weather lifeboats (pictured) from Eastbourne and Newhaven to the Birling Gap area
Dan Sankey added: ‘Beautiful afternoon at Birling Gap cut short by some weird mist, burning everyone’s eyes which led to the beach and cliff being evacuated.’
Another Twitter used said: ‘Being evacuated from Birling Gap, eyes streaming, can’t breathe properly, not exactly what I was hoping for.’
Kyle Crickmore said: ‘Some sort of chemical incident at Birling Gap, eyes are streaming and there’s a strong smell of chlorine in the air.’
He told KentLive: ‘My eyes started stinging and I thought it was the salt drying up in my eyes after a swim.’
‘I washed them out with bottled water and they started stinging and shaking two minutes later.’
‘Then all of a sudden the visibility was really poor, maybe 100 meters at most.’
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.
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.
Rebecca Baldock (left) shared a Snapchat of herself and friends Jacob Ward and Scott Smith, complaining of streaming and burning eyes. In the footage she says: ‘My eyeballs, my eyeballs’
Emergency services are treating people at Birling Gap and clearing the area
The UK Coastguard (pictured), Sussex Police, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service and the South Eastern Ambulance Service are all involved in dealing with the incident
Up to 50 people have been affected by the cloud, needing help from various emergency services – with symptoms including eye and throat irritation as well as vomiting
Rebecca Baldock shared a video from a car as she and her friends, Jacob Ward and Scott Smith, complained of streaming and burning eyes.
In the footage she can be heard saying: ‘My eyeballs, my eyeballs.’
She told Mirror Online: ‘We were on the beach in Eastbourne and we were just about to leave and all our eyes were itching and red. We couldn’t see and we thought it was because we’d been swimming in the sea but as we got further towards the steps of the beach everyone was holding their eyes and there was a mist rolling in.
‘The coast guard medics said it was a chemical irritant in the air and for everyone to get off the beach and out of the area as quick as. We used the medic centre to try wash our eyes but we all still have really red sore eyes.
‘The medics recommended we washed our eyes out with cold water and said we could stay to wait for an ambulance but we wanted to get out of the area.’
A Sussex Police spokesman said: ‘A “haze” that is causing discomfort for people along the coast from Eastbourne to Birling Gap has prompted emergency services to warn people to stay away from the beaches and to keep doors and windows closed if living near the coast.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (pictured) said the ‘chemical incident’ was ongoing
Police said the haze appeared to have blown in from the sea, but the source is not yet known
‘The first report came from Birling Gap just before 5pm on Sunday where up to 50 people had been affected by irritation to eyes and throats.
‘This seems to have been caused by an unknown haze coming in from the sea, but the source has not yet been established.
‘Emergency services are treating people at Birling Gap and clearing the area. People living along the coast in the area have been advised to keep doors and windows shut and to move away from the Birling Gap area in particular.’
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said the ‘chemical incident’ was ongoing.
Eastbourne councillor Kathy Ballard said: ‘It is a matter of definite concern. We need to find out the cause, where did this come from and to make sure that steps are taken so that it does not happen again.
‘I have not heard of it happening before in this area.’
The nearby Beachy Head is the tallest chalk sea cliff in Britain and there are an estimated 20 deaths by suicide there every year.