Thousands of guests dressed in fluffy animal costumes were evacuated from a Chicagohotel after a chlorine gas leak - then ushered across the road to a convention centre hosting a dog show.
Nineteen people who became nauseous or dizzy were treated at hospitals after the incident in Rosemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
Within hours, emergency workers decontaminated the Hyatt Regency O'Hare and allowed people back inside and 6ft rabbits, foxes and dragons poured into the lobby, chatting and giving each other high paws. Words: PA
"I think we'll recover from this," said Kit McCreedy, 28, from Madison, Wisconsin, his fox tail swinging behind him as he headed back inside for the last day of the Midwest FurFest. "People are tired but they're still full of energy."
The source of the gas was apparently chlorine powder left in a ninth-floor stairwell at the hotel, according to the Rosemont Public Safety Department. Investigators believe the gas was created deliberately and are treating it as a criminal matter.
Thousands attended the FurFest, in which enthusiasts celebrate animals that are anthropomorphic - given human characteristics - through art, literature and performance, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Many, who refer to themselves as "furries", wore cartoonish animal outfits.
While authorities conducted their investigation, organisers tried to assure participants that the evacuation would not overshadow the convention. But attendees seemed to think the evacuation was part of the fun - particularly those who recalled being herded into the Donald E Stephens Convention Centre as it was hosting a dog show.
"In walk all these people dressed like dogs and foxes," said Pieter Van Hiel, a 40-year-old technical writer from Hamilton, Canada.
Others said they did not have a clue why anyone would intentionally disrupt the convention that includes dance contests and panel discussions on making the costumes, with some quick to point out that the brightly coloured outfits are made from just fake fur and foam.
"Nobody uses real fur," said Frederic Cesbron, 35, a forklift operator who flew to Chicago from his home in France. He attended the convention dressed head-to-toe in a fox outfit that he said cost him about 2,000 dollars (£1,280) four years ago but would go for 3,000 (£1,920) today.
Attendees said they came for fun, but also for the spiritual and artistic aspects of the convention that have them celebrating animal characters from movies, TV shows, comic books and video games. Some also create their own characters and appreciate being in an atmosphere where nobody seems surprised or shocked by an elaborate, bright purple dragon.
"Everyone is from a different background," said Michael Lynch, 25, from Madison, Wisconsin, who also dressed as a fox. "Nobody judges anybody. It's nice to come to a place like that."
Or, as Mr Van Hiel put it: "It's kind of weird, but it's not weird here."
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