By Joel Kulasingham


A group of five Kiwis were among those on Britain's south coast who experienced irritation to their eyes and shortness of breath caused by a mysterious "haze".

Kiwis Lucy Bidwill, Alexandra Buddicom, Sarah Wimsett, Jaime Pannett and Nick Buddicom were visiting the popular tourist spot and were taking pictures when the white mist suddenly rolled in from the sea.

Aucklander Sarah Wimsett, 28, was one of the five who had been out walking at the Seven Sisters walk when she started experiencing irritation in her eyes.

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"Started off everybody thought it was sweat. As we got along, we bumped into more people that thought it was like salt in the air. And as we got further along, there was ambulance staff and that type of thing and we realised it was a lot more serious.

"A real haze came in ... there were some ships in the sea and it looked like they were in a cloud."

Wimsett said she experienced stinging and watering eyes and a sore throat that was "really bad for about two hours".

"It was sort of just something was in your eyes like having shampoo or something in your eyes. Everyone was squirting water in their eyes but it wasn't really helping.

"I really struggled with my eyes. I couldn't see for a really long time. I couldn't clear it up. My throat got really sore."

Wimsett says she and the rest of the group are feeling a lot better with just a few lingering symptoms like sore throats.

"It was pretty calm. I just think nobody understood what was going on. Everyone was wondering what was happening. It was more just confusion more than anything."

The group of Kiwis are among hundreds of people who were caught in the mysterious "chemical mist" that crept in from the sea along a 10km section of the East Sussex Coast.

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Local residents have been warned to stay inside while doctors in hazmat suits are treating more than 200 people with breathing problems, burning eyes and sickness in contamination tents, according to Daily Mail.

Kiwis Lucy Bidwill, Alexandra Buddicom, Sarah Wimsett and Jaime Pannett before the haze hit. Photo / Sarah Wimsett
Kiwis Lucy Bidwill, Alexandra Buddicom, Sarah Wimsett and Jaime Pannett before the haze hit. Photo / Sarah Wimsett

Eastbourne Hospital has now announced a major incident and has treated hundreds of Bank Holidaymakers.

The coastguard, police, ambulances and fire and rescue crews are at the worst affected area, Birling Gap, near Beachy Head - a famous headland due to its 160m drops and high suicide rates as Britain's tallest chalk sea cliffs.

Dramatic pictures of the cloud's distinctive yellow haze, and witness reports mentioning strong smells, have sparked speculation that the mist may contain chlorine gas.

A spokesman for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust said that 223 people had been seen at Eastbourne Hospital.

Pop up decontamination tents allowed patients to be examined by staff wearing protective clothing.

Neighbouring hospitals have helped with the influx of patients by taking on people whose ailments do not relate to the worrying gas cloud.

A spokesman for the Princess Royal Hospital said: "Patients are being diverted away from Eastbourne unless they are from the Birling Gap incident."

Symptoms including eye and throat irritation as well as vomiting and breathing problems have been reported. Photo / Sarah Wimsett
Symptoms including eye and throat irritation as well as vomiting and breathing problems have been reported. Photo / Sarah Wimsett

Symptoms including eye and throat irritation as well as vomiting and breathing problems have been reported.

The source of the haze is not yet known but lifeguards said it was "possibly some kind of gaseous fumes".

East Sussex Chief Inspector Bruce Mathews said the source of the cloud is as yet unknown and that this lack of knowledge is "adding to our concern".

He said: "It's definitely coming from the coast. Initial reports were of a fire at Birling Gap, but there's been no fire.

"I know with previous incidents that we've had here there's been incidents where stuff has come across from industrial units in France.

"We're going to work with our agencies to try and find out where this has all come from."

- additional reporting by NZ Herald