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Mystery illness hits airport

Melbourne (Australia)
Health and Safety at Work

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Dozens of people were hospitalized after a mystery illness struck an Australian airport, forcing hundreds of people to be evacuated from the terminal.

Fifty-seven people were treated for dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath and nausea at the Virgin Blue terminal in Melbourne Airport on Monday morning, officials told CNN.

It is still unclear what is causing the illnesses, but Melbourne Airport spokeswoman Brooke Lord told Reuters news agency a chemical leak may be at fault.

But it is unclear what the substance could be, or how it was released into the air.

"Their symptoms were not life threatening but they certainly needed help," Melbourne Metropolitan Ambulance spokesman James Howe told CNN.

"(The people) were in varying degrees of distress, as you can imagine, it can be quite draining for them not knowing what was affecting them."

Forty-seven people were rushed to hospital, and 36 of them were later discharged. Ten were treated at the scene.

The Melbourne fire brigade is combing the area, wearing hazardous materials suits and testing the air for toxic chemicals.

"We've got 50 firefighters down there, but so far they can't find anything," the brigade's deputy chief fire officer Keith Adamson told CNN.

"We'll find it eventually, it should be just a matter of hours."

Rescue crews from the airport were also on scene, along with the Victoria police.

Authorities evacuated about 700 people from the terminal at 10:10 a.m. (2300 GMT) Monday, a Melbourne Airport spokesman said in a statement.

Passengers on an incoming Virgin Blue aircraft were being bussed from the plane to other non-affected terminals, the spokesman said.

Virgin Blue passengers scheduled to depart from Melbourne have been delayed.

The Qantas domestic terminal and the international terminal are open.

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