The cause of an explosion and building collapse at an Omaha, Nebraska animal feed plant that killed two workers and injured more than 10 others is under investigation.
Witnesses say a loud explosion and fireball preceded the collapse of the second and third floors of the International Nutrition plant, the Wall Street Journal reports. The upper floors flattened onto the first floor, trapping several of the 38 employees at work in the building at the time of the explosion. Rescuers using ladders freed four people and were also able to pull a fifth employee from a pile of steel and concrete, interim Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger said. Some of the workers were able to make it out of the building on their own. The rescuers recovered the first body about 5 p.m., Kanger said, but extreme cold, high winds, and unstable conditions in the building forced a halt to the recovery efforts before they could remove the second victim. The recovery effort will resume today. USA Today reports that 10 people were hospitalized, four in critical condition.
Authorities don’t yet know what caused the blast. Chief Kanger indicated there were no hazardous chemicals in the plant, which produces feed mixes for livestock. But the Wall Street Journal reports that over the past decade the plant has been under regulatory scrutiny. In 2002, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company for five serious and four lesser violations after a worker was killed when he was cleaning a mixing tank. He stepped backward and fell into the tank while it still running. OSHA issued fines of $20,350, though these were reduced through negotiations to $13,600 for four serious and three other violations. After a 2012 inspection, International Nutrition was fined $19,600 for six serious violations of mechanical and electrical procedures. According to government records, the company paid $10,430 following a settlement.