Westwego, LA Grain Elevator Explosion, Dec 1977
Blast Destroys Grain Elevators
More Bodies Recovered From Explosion of 48 Silos
WESTWEGO, La. (UPI) -- Weary rescue crews working without rest today recovered another dozen bodies from the steel and concrete rubble of a Mississippi River grain elevator, forcing officials to raise their estimates of the explosion death toll to 35 in the nation's worst grain industry accident.
Shortly before dawn, the 22nd body was recovered from the wreckage of the $100 million Continental Grain Co. plant in suburban New Orleans and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Alwynn Cronvich said he feared another 13 victims were buried inside.
Eleven other persons, including a sheriff's deputy, were hospitalized with injuries.
"It's almost more than we can bear," said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Alwynn Cronvich. "The men are getting a little discouraged because they are searching for bits and pieces of bodies."
Most of the dead were trapped in a two-story, cinder block office building that was crushed when a nearby 25-story grain elevator exploded. Half the elevator was destroyed and its wreckage shattered the office complex.
Federal and state investigators were at the scene today trying to determine the cause of the deadly blast, which one official said may have been caused by a buildup of grain during the recent national dockworkers' strike.
Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Gil Dozier said the strike, which slowed shipping at ports from Maine to Texas for two months this fall, may have forced Continental officials to hold on to their grain supplies too long.
"If you put any grain in an enclosure it's like using the grain for mash and gasses are created," Dozier told UPI. "It's not the grain that explodes, it's the gasses that build up. It could have been from spontaneous combustion."
Dozier said he was uncertain how long the current supplies of grain had been stored at the Continental plant 10 miles upriver from New Orleans. He said investigators would be asked to look into the question.
"This is the worst grain disaster in the history of the nation," he said. "They had one on the Great Lakes a few years back, but we already have enough deaths to exceed that one. Apparently this plant is a total loss."
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