Death toll rises to 3 in explosion at plant in northern Illinois; 1 missing

May 5 (UPI) — The death toll rose to three workers and one other person missing after an explosion rocked a chemical plant in northern Illinois.

Around 9:30 p.m. Friday, the large explosion destroyed AB Specialty Silicones, a manufacturer of specialty silicone chemicals in Waukegan, about 40 miles north of Chicago.

One worker’s body was found Saturday and another missing man was found at approximately 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Waukegan Fire Marshall Steven Lenzi told the Lake County News Sun. Another employee is missing and presumed dead.

Four workers were initially hospitalized. Allen Stevens, 29, died at 11:50 a.m. Saturday from his injuries at Loyola’s burn unit in Maywood after being transported from Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan.

In all, nine people were inside the plant at the time of the explosion. Two people didn’t need any medical assistance.

Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper said crews suspended their search for the two missing employees at 8 p.m. Saturday because of concerns about the stability of the structure.

“We do believe we know who all we’re looking for,” Cooper told the Lake County News Sun. “We believe we know where they are at this point.”

Heavy equipment was brought in to remove debris.

“We literally have to go piece by piece by piece to make sure we don’t miss anything,” Cooper said. “We originally got here at three o’clock this morning. And by the time the equipment got here. Everything just takes a long time. We’re just trying to go slow and methodical and make sure we do everything the right way and then we’ll be able to get the folks we’re looking for.”

More than 100 people helped battle the fire and search for the missing, including two teams of hazardous materials technicians from Lake and Cook counties. Also on the scene were representatives from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, State Fire Marshal and Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The cause has not yet been determined.

The explosion was felt throughout Lake County, including 20 miles away in Buffalo Grove, the Daily Herald reported. Even residents in Wisconsin, north of Waukegan reported feeling the explosion, WMAQ-TV reported.

“You could just feel the walls shake. It was almost like a sonic pulse,” Waukegan resident Tim Stevens told WLS-TV. “Luckily, I didn’t have any windows broken out, but you could definitely feel it. It was unlike anything I’ve felt before.”

The plant is on the city’s far northwest side near its border with Gurnee.

Arriving crews initially “were quickly overwhelmed” by flames at the plant, Lenzi said.

The building has sustained at least 90 percent damage, with estimates exceeding at least $1 million, Lenzi said.

“We are shocked and heart broken by the tragedy that occurred in our plant last night,” Mac Penman, the owner and general manager of AB Specialty Silicones, said in a statement. “We have spent the day trying our best to support all the members of our AB Family as we attempt to process this terrible loss together.”

Five neighboring buildings were damaged.

Amerikal, which manufactures chemicals, equipment and filters for the printing industry, sustained about $250,000 in wall and roof damage from the explosion at least a half-block away from AB.

Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham surveyed the damage.

“I send a huge prayer to the families who don’t really know what’s going on with their loved ones right now,” Cunningham said. “And to the owners. This is quite devastating. Not only to them, but to our whole community.”

Investigators have been attempting to find what caused the explosion.

“Now we’re still dealing with the collapse, and we anticipate at least a week to a month before we can get information that can help us determine a cause,” Waukegan Fire Chief George Bridges Jr. told the News-Sun.


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