Sirens were blaring in downtown Oslo on Wednesday as emergency crews rushed to the western waterfront, following reports of sudden illness and fainting among employees inside the iconic Ali coffee-roasting building at Filipstad. Six people were taken to hospital and more than 50 others evacuated.
“A group of employees were on their way out of a meeting when they began to feel ill,” Rune Bjørsvik of the Oslo Police District told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “First two people fainted on the spot, then two more. That’s why we believe this is a gas leak.”
None of the six people who were rushed to hospital was believed to be seriously injured, but all were being examined to determine what they’d injested. A total of 55 people were evacuated from the building, where Norway’s dominant grocery and wholesaling firm NorgesGruppen has been roasting and storing coffee for 50 years. The building is known as the “Ali” building because of the Ali-coffee brand logo that adorns it. NorgesGruppen’s Evergood coffee is also roasted on the site.
All gas intake to the building was immediately cut off. Firefighters first thought it involved propane, but that didn’t register on their measuring instruments. After searching the entire building, they couldn’t immediately find any trace of dangerous gas. An investigation would continue.
“It was very frightening,” Siv Asmundvaag, one of those at the meeting, told NRK. “One of my colleagues suddenly had breathing problems and we were afraid he was having a heart attack, so two other colleagues ran out to call 113 (Norway’s nationwide emergency number for ambulances). When they came back, even more colleagues felt ill and two people had fainted. Then we realized this wasn’t heart problems.”
They rang the the fire alarm before the people who fainted were carried outside. “We all felt ill when we came out of the building,” Asmundvaag said.
The entire Filipstad area where the Ali building is located is currently the target of the next phase of Oslo’s waterfront redevelopment plans. Some of its old industrial buildings, located just across the water from the luxurious new Tjuvholmen complex, have already been vacated and various contested plans for the area call for construction of everything from homes and offices to a new cruise terminal and a new concert hall. The fate of the Ali building remains unclear, with some wanting to preserve it and others advocating it be torn down along with most other structures, to make way for a new urban neighbourhood.