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SHOPPERS SENT TO HOSPITAL AFTER COMPLAINING OF FUMES

Two dozen people at a crowded shopping center were sent to hospitals Friday with stinging eyes and sore throats, the same symptoms that sickened more than 500 people at a nearby train station two days earlier.

Police and fire officials, some in protective gear and gas masks, searched the center but found no evidence of noxious fumes. No one was seriously injured.On Wednesday, a still-unidentified gas released at Yokohama Station, about 100 yards from the shopping center, sent 509 people to hospitals with stinging eyes, sore throats and dizziness.

Authorities at the station searched but did not find anything unusual Friday, an official there said. Yokohama is a major port city just south of Tokyo.

Japan has been on edge since a March 20 nerve gas attack in Tokyo killed 12 people and sickened 5,500 people, some gravely.

No one has been charged with that attack, but police have seized tons of potentially dangerous chemicals in raids on facilities of a doomsday cult and have arrested more than 100 cult members, albeit on unrelated charges.

Officials said they could not tell what caused Friday's symptoms but noted they were similar to those reported Wednesday, only milder. No suspects have been identified in that attack.

Police said five high school girls were among those hospitalized Friday with irritated eyes and noses after smelling "something strange" at the multistory shopping center.

Two male companions from their school were not hospitalized, an officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Shoppers reported smelling a foul odor at the top of a third-floor escalator, but police said they found nothing unusual there.