A HAMPSHIRE shopping centre has been evacuated tonight following a gas leak.

Shoppers and staff wre told to leave the Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer superstores at Hedge End while teams from hazardous materials unit for the fire service were in the premises in protective clothing trying to find the source of the leak and shut it off.

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The alarm was raised shortly after 5pm after people at the check-outs in Sainsbury's complained of not feeling well.

Marks and Spencer was also cleared as it shares the same heating system.

All three emergency services were at the scene, in Tollbar Way, for what they described as a "major incident".

Daily Echo:

A Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said they had been called in for a hazardous materials incident by South Central Ambulance Service and later confirmed that the cause was coolant leaking from a food freezer.

A total of 62 shoppers and staff fell ill with runny eyes, dry mouths and breathing problems.

Police cordoned off a 60-yard exclusion zone around the two stores.
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Inside the sealed-off area casualties wrapped in turquoise blankets waited for their turn in a decontamination tent.Daily Echo:

More than 10 ambulances were on the scene with people being treated inside. One elderly woman was put into an ambulance and driven away to hospital as a precaution.

There were also around 10 police vehicles on the scene.

The cordon was lifted at around 9pm.

Mark Roberts, South Central Ambulance Service emergency service officer, said: “We are at a point now where we are quite happy there is no risks to the public and there are no health warnings and we are in the process of handing the premises back to the owners.

"We'd ask the public to stay away from this area for the time being while we're finalising the incident."

The stores are expected to re-open tomorrow as normal.

They are part of an extensive out-of-town retail park in Tollbar Way, Hedge End, which is hugely popular with shoppers.

Mark Larrimore, station commander for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Both stores were full when we turned up with our officers and police officers went in and removed everyone with the help of staff. We moved everyone out of the main entrance which is away from the store and upwind. We also blocked off Marks and Spencer so people could not cross over.

“We have had officers going in with detection systems and they have picked up nothing in the atmosphere whatsoever.”

A Marks and Spencer spokeswoman said that a total of 100 staff had been evacuated from the store, of which 40 had been treated as a precaution.

She said: ''We were advised by police to evacuate our Hedge End store following the detection of a gas leak in an adjacent store. The store remains closed and we are supporting the emergency services.''

A Sainsbury's spokesman said: ''Our Hedge End store was evacuated earlier this evening. The store will remain closed tonight. However following air quality checks the emergency services have confirmed the site is safe.''

Shopper Richard Hillier, wrote on Twitter: ''Hopefully the gas leak wasn't serious, left Sainsburys Hedge End just as emergency services turned up. Haven't stopped coughing since leaving.''