2 deaths confirmed in Nebraska plant blast

Hazards force suspension of search efforts

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OMAHA, Neb. -- An explosion Monday morning that brought down part of an Omaha animal feed processing plant killed 2 people and seriously injured 10 others, authorities said.

The search for bodies in the crippled International Nutrition plant progressed slowly Monday and had to be suspended in the evening. Omaha Police Lt. Darci Tierney said all 38 workers who were in the building at the time had been accounted for, so the death toll wasn't expected to grow.

Through much of the day, authorities declined to say how many had died while they sorted out what happened. In total, officials said two died, 10 were hospitalized and seven were hurt but refused treatment. The other 19 workers escaped.

Authorities late Monday said Keith Everett, 53, of Omaha was one of the victims. The other victim's name hasn't been released.

Search-and-rescue experts worked into Monday evening to stabilize the building and removed one victim. But the combination of strong winds, cold temperatures and a dangerous building forced rescuers to suspend operations before the second victim could be recovered, said Omaha interim Fire Chief Bernie Kanger. That search effort and investigation will resume this morning, but there's difficult work ahead.

"We've got tens of thousands of pounds of concrete, reinforced concrete and steel," Chief Kanger said. "This is a very significant rescue operation."

Authorities don't know what caused the blast, but Chief Kanger noted that there were no hazardous chemicals at the three-story plant. International Nutrition makes products that are added to livestock and poultry feed to make them more nutritious.

The second and third floors of the plant collapsed on top of the first floor, after key structural supports failed. Chief Kanger said firefighters were able to rescue five men initially, including one who had to be cut from the debris.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will determine the cause of the accident, but Chief Kanger said the investigation could take weeks.

The explosion knocked out the lights in the building and sent workers scrambling for safety.

Nate Lewis, 21, said he was on the first floor when he heard the explosion. The building went dark, so he used light from his cell phone to make his way across the production floor and outside. "I was a production line worker, although I don't know if I want to be that anymore," said Mr. Lewis, who has worked there for about four months.

Jamar White said he heard a loud crack and looked up to see the back wall of the building collapsing. "I ran at least 150 feet," he said. "I ran far enough to make sure nothing else would keep falling." Afterward, Mr. White said, he could see inside the third floor, where at least two co-workers were screaming for help.

There appears to be structural damage to the top of the building, which sits in an industrial area just south of Interstate 80, which bisects Nebraska's largest city. There are no residences nearby, and the other industrial buildings in the neighborhood weren't evacuated after the explosion.

Diane Stout said she had heard from her husband, a plant maintenance crew manager, so she knew he was OK. The workers all know each other well, she said, so she was hoping to hear good news about friends there.

Mr. White's wife, Sarah, said she was at home with her four children when her husband called her after the explosion. "I could hear the panic in his voice," she said. "But he said he was OK."

Ms. White said he'd been watching trucks unload from outside the building when the blast occurred. "That's where he works every day," she said. "That could have been him."


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