One hundred-one Mississippi University for Women students who spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights in a local hotel will return to their campus residence hall, two days after the hall filled up with carbon monoxide, prompting an evacuation from the building and sending 28 students to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle.
Students in MUW’s Kincannon Hall awoke early Tuesday morning to the smell of gas, and the residence was evacuated to a nearby gym at about 5 a.m. According to university spokespeople and Columbus Fire and Rescue Public Information Officer Anthony Colom, the boiler in the basement malfunctioned, leaking carbon monoxide throughout all five floors of the building.
A total of 41 students have been evaluated at area hospitals following the malfunction, according to university spokesperson Anika Perkins. All the students have been treated and released.
University president Jim Borsig said in a press conference Wednesday university maintenance engineers and other staff have been working around the clock to ensure the students and buildings are safe.
“Any level of carbon monoxide is not acceptable,” he said. “… The build-up of carbon monoxide is one thing. A spike is another, and we really don’t know what we had except that we had an unacceptable level of carbon monoxide inside the residence hall.”
The university has set up shuttle systems to run students between campus and the hotel. After firefighters declared the building clear of carbon monoxide, the university opened Kincannon Hall from 4:15-10 p.m. Tuesday to let students into their dorm rooms to retrieve clothes, textbooks and other things they needed.
The next step, Borsig said, is for the university to determine what happened and how it can be prevented.
“Yesterday was about being focused on the students, today we’re back to being focused on the buildings and then next will come the evaluation of what happened and what we can improve on, both in our response as well as what we learned from … the review of the building,” he said.
The Kincannon Hall boiler, which was installed in 1991, is one of three boilers with open flames in residence halls on campus, Borsig said — the other two being in Jones and Goen halls. Maintenance tested the other two boilers and found they were working correctly.
As of Wednesday morning, maintenance engineers were working to install carbon monoxide detectors in all three buildings. Borsig said he hoped they would be “in place before bedtime today.”
“There may end up being a more permanent solution down the road,” he added.
As far as Perkins and Borsig are aware, there has never been a carbon monoxide leak on campus before.
CFR firefighters and MUW personnel have been through Kincannon Hall multiple times over Tuesday and Wednesday and detected zero levels of carbon monoxide, Perkins said. Technicians from two companies continued to test and work on the boiler throughout Wednesday.
The university has footed the medical and temporary housing bills for the students in Kincannon Hall, Borsig said.