Six workers were killed and several others were taken to a hospital after a liquid nitrogen leak Thursday at a poultry processing plant in Gainesville, Georgia, officials said.
Fire crews from Hall County and Gainesville responded to a report of burns at the Foundation Foods facility – formerly Prime Pak Foods – around 10:12 a.m. on Thursday, said Zachary Brackett of Hall County Fire Services.
Units arrived and found a large group of employees that had evacuated, along with multiple people who were experiencing medical emergencies in and around the facility, Brackett said. About 130 workers evacuated the plant.
Five men and one woman were killed, according to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, which identified the victims on Friday as Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45; Corey Alan Murphy, 35; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28; Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41; Victor Vellez, 38: and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28.
Their bodies have been taken to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab for autopsies, the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities said previously that five of the victims died at the scene and one died at the hospital.
Three people who are in critical condition remained hospitalized Friday, according to Northeast Georgia Health System spokeswoman Beth Downs.
Eight other patients were discharged Thursday or Friday. All had respiratory issues, officials said.
The injured included three Gainesville firefighters and one Hall County firefighter.
Official says a nitrogen line ruptured
Brackett said there was no explosion, and the cause of the leak remains under investigation.
Nicholas Ancrum, vice president of human resources at Foundation Food Group, said preliminary reports indicated a nitrogen line ruptured.
“Until this investigation is completed, we cannot say with confidence precisely how this accident occurred,” he said.
The sheriff’s office is managing the investigation.
“Those lost today include maintenance, supervisory and management team members,” Ancrum said. “Every team member is equally important to us and our hearts go out to their families and communities who have suffered such a devastating loss.”
Officials from the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are at the site, Gov. Brian Kemp said.
He added his condolences, saying: “Our hearts are broken hearing about the tragedy that took place at Prime Pak Foods. Marty, the girls, and I ask all Georgians to join us in praying for the families facing a terrible loss and the other employees who are receiving medical care. May God be a hand of peace, comfort, and healing in the days ahead.”
Foundation Food Group finalized its purchase of Prime Pak in early January, Ancrum said. Foundation Food Group is a privately owned company based in Gainesville with four facilities in the area.
Gainesville is about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta.
CNN’s Angela Barajas and Natasha Chen reported from Gainesville while Steve Almasy and Gisela Crespo reported and wrote from Atlanta. Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.