3 dead in Kansas grain explosion, others missing

A Kansas State Trooper stands his post near the Bartlett Grain Co. elevator in Atchison, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011. An explosion at the grain elevator injured at least two people.

A Kansas State Trooper stands his post near the Bartlett Grain Co. elevator in Atchison, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011. An explosion at the grain elevator injured at least two people. Photo by The Associated Press.

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — An explosion at a Kansas grain elevator killed three workers and shot a fireball so high into the sky that it could be seen in Missouri, officials said Sunday.

Trey Cocking, the city manager in the northeast Kansas town of Atchison, confirmed the deaths and said three other people remain missing after Saturday night’s blast at the Bartlett Grain Co. elevator. He said authorities planned to bring in equipment to dig through rubble Sunday.

The explosion could be seen and felt across the town, shaking homes and businesses up to 4 miles away. The cause was not immediately known, though grain elevator mishaps often occur after grain dust becomes suspended in the air and turns explosive in the right conditions.

Bartlett Grain President Bill Fellows said in a release that 11 workers were involved in loading a train of corn when the explosion happened about 7 p.m. Saturday. He said several of those 11 workers escaped injury, but that there were fatalities and some injuries. He said the number of deaths were undetermined.

Dennis McCulloch, spokesman for the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., had said Saturday that two victims were in critical condition in the hospital’s burn unit. It’s not clear whether those victims are among those now said to be dead.

Fellows said Bartlett Grain workers remained at the elevator early Sunday and were assisting with authorities any way they could.

“The company’s concern at this point is caring for those involved and their families,” Fellows said. “We, of course, are in touch with all of the families of the Bartlett employees. We will share more information as it is discovered.”

A news release from Atchison city officials said multiple injuries were reported, but that authorities were withholding details pending notification of families. City officials said in the release that rescue operations “can be difficult because workers are often scattered throughout the facility, making them difficult to locate.”

Several area police and firefighting agencies were on the scene late Saturday, and fire crews were seen pumping water onto the wreckage well into the night. Access roads leading to the elevator were blocked by authorities.

Atchison has about 11,000 residents and is known as the birthplace of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.

Across the Missouri River, a dispatcher at the sheriff’s department in Buchanan County, Mo., said the office took numerous calls from residents saying they could hear the explosion deep into the county. Residents across the area said a fireball from the explosion could be seen well away from the site.

Randy Burton, an employee at the Quick Stop East convenience store in Atchison about two miles from the elevator, said the explosion “shook our whole building.”

“All I saw was a flash and then the building shook really good,” Burton said. “Some things fell off our shelves.”

Earlier coverage, posted at 12:10 a.m.:

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — An explosion at a northeast Kansas grain elevator injured at least two people Saturday, shaking the ground for miles around and sending a fireball high into the night sky that was visible across the river in Missouri, authorities said.

The two injured victims were in critical condition in the burn unit at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., about 50 miles south of the blast site at the Bartlett Grain Co. elevator in Atchison, Kan., hospital spokesman Dennis McCulloch said.

A news release from Atchison city officials said multiple injuries were reported, but that authorities were withholding details pending notification of families. A spokeswoman for Atchison Hospital, TC Roberts, said the hospital had not treated any patients from the explosion and didn’t expect to receive any.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, though grain elevator mishaps often occur after grain dust becomes suspended in the air and turns explosive in the right conditions. In its news release, the city said rescue operations “can be difficult because workers are often scattered throughout the facility, making them difficult to locate.”

Several area police and firefighting agencies were on the scene late Saturday, and fire crews were seen pumping water onto the wreckage well into the night.

The explosion could be seen and felt across Atchison, a town of about 11,000 people known as the birthplace of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.

Across the river in Buchanan County, Mo., a sheriff’s dispatcher said their office took numerous calls from residents saying they could hear the explosion deep into the county. The St. Joseph, Mo., News-Press reported the blast sent up a fireball that could be seen well away from the site.

Randy Burton, an employee at the Quick Stop East convenience store in Atchison about two miles from the elevator, said the explosion “shook our whole building.”

“All I saw was a flash and then the building shook really good,” Burton said. “Some things fell off our shelves.”

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