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Omaha Plant Blast Cause Unknown, Two Die, Others Seriously Injured

Jan 21, 2014

A massive explosion at an industrial animal feed plant in Nebraska led to a building collapse, 10 injuries, and two deaths. The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

The 10 people hospitalized were listed as having significant injuries, according to authorities, according to The Associated (AP). A firefighter was sent to the hospital due to an injured hand.

According to witnesses, an implosion followed a loud explosion and a fireball. The implosion led to the second and third floors of the International Nutrition plant collapsing onto the first floor, according to The Wall Street Journal. The implosion trapped some of the employees inside the three-story building. Another witness, forklift operator Kendrick Houston, told the Omaha World-Herald, "There was this real loud crackling sound and the lights went off. I saw a spark, and there was a big ball of flame coming from the southwest corner of the building."

The scene was harrowing. Ladders were needed to pull four people from the wreckage and a fifth was rescued from steel and concrete, according to the Interim Omaha Fire Chief, Berne Kanger. By 2:00 that afternoon workers began to understand that there would be no more survivors; the first body was recovered at 5:00 p.m., Interim Chief Kanger, told The Wall Street Journal.

The second victim was unable to be removed until the morning due to extreme cold, high winds, and conditions deemed unsafe, Mr. Kanger said. "We have not been able to clear the building yet because of the significance of the collapse and the potential risk" to our personnel, Mr. Kanger said at a news conference. "We've got tens of thousands of pounds of concrete, reinforced concrete and steel,” he added, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Authorities are not sure what caused the blast, said Mr. Kanger; however, no hazardous chemicals were stored at the plant, which produces nutritional mixes for livestock, according to The Wall Street Journal. Following the blast, key structural supports failed, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, according to The Wall Street Journal, the company has long had issues that have drawn the attention of regulators:

  • 2012: The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined the firm $19,600 for six "serious" violations of mechanical and electrical procedures; this, following an OSHA inspection. International Nutrition paid $10,430 following a settlement, government records indicate.
  • 2002: A worker died while cleaning a mixing tank. He stepped back, into the tank, while it was running, OSHA records indicate. The firm was cited by OSHA for five serious and four lesser violations, issuing fines totaling $20,350, which—following negotiations—were reduced to $13,600 for four of the serious and three of the other violations.

Mr. Kanger said that he could not confirm that an explosion occurred, although witnesses said they heard a blast. OSHA will investigate the cause of the accident, which could take weeks, said Mr. Kanger, the AP wrote.

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