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Hokes Bluff Middle School evacuated after several students show signs of hyperventilation

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Gadsden Fire Department Hazmat Team at Hokes Bluff Middle School Thursday, December 12, 2013, after several students were found showing signs of hyperventilation. (abc3340.com) Gadsden Fire Department Hazmat Team at Hokes Bluff Middle School Thursday, December 12, 2013, after several students were found showing signs of hyperventilation. (abc3340.com)
Etowah County deputies post a Do Not Cross line at the entrance to Hokes Bluff Middle School.  Etowah County's Board of Education decided to close the middle and elementary schools for Friday. (abc3340.com) Etowah County deputies post a Do Not Cross line at the entrance to Hokes Bluff Middle School. Etowah County's Board of Education decided to close the middle and elementary schools for Friday. (abc3340.com)
HOKES BLUFF, Ala. -

Hokes Bluff Middle School will be closed Friday after 13 students and one teacher had difficulty breathing Thursday morning.  Physicians at Gadsden Regional Medical Center said the students are responding to treatment.

As of Thursday night, a total of 24 people sought medical attention from HBMS. Five were admitted for closer observation.

Police evacuated the middle school Thursday morning when several students began to wheeze and hyperventilate.  Hokes Bluff police chief Mitchell Hill said some may have had panic attacks.

Principal Greg Watkins said the majority of the students are in eighth grade and were in a physical education during the first period of school.  Nine had breathing difficulties during the class. 

Four more students showed similar symptoms during the evacuation of students from the middle school to the high school.  A teacher also began to suffer a respiratory problem following the evacuation, and went to the hospital as well.

Etowah County Schools superintendent Alan Cosby went to the school to meet with investigators, and then to the hospital to check on his students.

"The physicians have still found nothing and in consultation with them we have decided we will contact our EMA and other authorities," Cosby said.

"We had Alagasco come out and check for possible carbon monoxide, check for possible gas leaks.  All of that was negative."

Hokes Bluff police and Etowah County sheriff's deputies were unable to find the origin of any problem.  The Gadsden Fire Department's Hazmat unit checked the building for airborne toxins but everything appeared to be clear.

"We've checked everything we know to check and it's as safe an environment that I know that we can we have," Chief Hill said.

"If we knew that there was anything amiss we would try to fix it but we can't find anything."

However, to be safe, the school is closed until further notice. Superintendent Cosby hopes the closure will only be for Friday.

Due to its proximity to the middle school, Hokes Bluff Elementary School will also be closed Friday.  Hokes Bluff High School will be open with a regular class schedule.

School officials contacted the Alabama Department of Public Health and Emergency Management. One school board member said they were probably going to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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