October 9, 2009 / 7:44 PM / 10 years ago

Two dead, 19 sick at Arizona "sweat dome" retreat

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Two people died and 19 were treated in hospital after falling ill in a sauna-like “sweat dome” at a retreat in northern Arizona, authorities said on Friday.

Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said 64 people were in a sweat dome at the Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona for up to two hours on Thursday.

Twenty-one people were taken for treatment at the nearby Flagstaff Medical Center and Verde Valley Medical Center, where two of them were pronounced dead.

“We’re just looking into what may have caused these unfortunate injuries and deaths,” D’Evelyn told Reuters.

There was no immediate information about the condition of those treated in hospital. Local news media reported a man and a woman had died.

Sedona, 117 miles north of Phoenix, is renowned for its red rocks, which some people believe have spiritual and restorative powers. The area is a popular destination for New Age retreats.

Television news images of the sweat dome showed a large, windowless circular structure, apparently covered in black plastic or tarpaulin.

D’Evelyn said participants had paid up to $9,000 to take part in the sweat dome, which was warmed by preheated rocks brought inside.

He said investigators were at the resort on Friday, looking into the cause of the injuries and deaths.

“We are looking at pre-existing medical conditions. Some have indicated they may have been fasting, so there’s a lot that may have played into this,” he said.

A spokesman for the Angel Valley Retreat Center declined to comment to Reuters.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who ran for president in 2008, has a vacation lodge in the Sedona area.

Sweat or medicine lodges, smaller domed or oblong structures warmed with heated stones, have traditionally been used in ceremonies by some native American cultures.

Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Additional reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Eric Walsh

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