Port Neal, IA Chemical Plant Explosion, Dec 1994
EXPLOSION AT FARM CHEMICAL PLANT IN RURAL IOWA.
BLAST LEVELS SEVEN-STORY BUILDING AT FERTILIZER PLANT.
Sioux City, Iowa - (AP) - An explosion demolished a farm chemical plant Tuesday, killing at least four workers and leaving only a crater where the seven-story building had stood. Seventeen
people were injured.
The early morning blast at the Terra Industries plant, Iowa's biggest producer of nitrogen-based fertilizers, released a cloud of ammonia gas, forcing the evacuation
of 1,700 people from towns up to 20 miles away.
The ammonia leak was nearly stopped by midafternoon, and some evacuees living farthest from the plant were allowed to return home, officials said.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately known.
"There was a building there. It's gone," said Dick Braun, a firefighter in nearby Salix.
The blast at the plant along the Missouri River, on the Nebraska-Iowa line, was felt 30 miles away. It twisted steel beams and tossed one 300 yards into a cornfield, Braun said.
Fire officials said most of the buildings in the refinery-like complex 10 miles south of Sioux City were damaged, and the main, seven-story building was reduced to a crater. The scene was closed off to all but emergency workers.
"This is worse than any tornado I've seen, as far as destruction," said Salix Fire Chief Gerald Smith.
Shrapnel thrown out by the explosion punctured one or both of the plant's two 15,000-ton refrigerated ammonia storage tanks, said Burton Joyce, Terra's president and chief executive officer.
The company estimated that one of the tanks held 5,700 tons of ammonia but said it did not know how much escaped.
Flying debris also punctured a nearby nitric acid tank, spilling up to 100 tons of the corrosive liquid, a company statement said. The plant's water discharge was blocked to make sure the acid did not seep into groundwater.
One of the dead was found in a truck, and two others were in a maintenance shed near the main building, Smith said.
The causes of death weren't immediately known, but an emergency worker said one victim had been crushed by metal.
Eighteen people were injured, Joyce said. He said two were in serious condition and one was in guarded condition. Authorities said injuries included burns, abrasions and exposure to ammonia.
Among those hurt was plant worker RANDY LINOGES, 41, who was treated for inhaling ammonia fumes. LINOGES told his wife he was working in a small building when the plant was rocked by an explosion about 6:15 a.m.
"There was no warning, or nothing. It just blew," July Linoges said as she waited for her husband at a hospital in Sioux City.
Firefighters wearing oxygen masks poured water on a leaking ammonia tank to help dissipate the fumes.
Exposure to ammonia fumes can cause anything from eye irritation to death, depending on the concentration.
Joyce said 119 people work at the plant but he didn't know how many were there at the time of the blast, which occurred before the day shift.
Emergency shelters were set up in six cities in Iowa and Nebraska as the chemical cloud moved south and went across the Missouri River. Hundreds of people were also evacuated from an Indian casino about 10 miles away.
By midafternoon, some residents were allowed to return home.
Ammonia was the only chemical known to have been released, but there could have been others, said Ellen Gordon, state emergency management coordinator. "We are considering it as a dangerous cloud," she said.
Joyce said the company will help investigators determine the cause of the blast.
Salina Journal Kansas 1994-12-14