Distraught and anxious family members gathered Monday outside a Kansas grain elevator as authorities searched for three more people likely killed in a weekend blast that left three others dead.
Lynn and Patty Field, of Atchison, said their 21-year-old son,
Curtis Field, was among those still officially considered missing.
They said the two others were state grain inspectors. Crews were
working to stabilize the debris Monday in the Bartlett Grain Co.
facility in Atchison, about 50 miles northwest of Kansas City.
"I don't know what else to do," Patty Field said. Then,
starting to cry, she added, "I just want him home -- I mean, out of
there. I want him home, but I know he's not coming home."
Unstable concrete, hanging steel beams and other damage caused
by a powerful explosion that ripped through the elevator were
complicating efforts to find the missing people. The bodies of
three other workers were recovered after the Saturday blast, and
two people are hospitalized with severe burns.
The explosion was a harrowing reminder of the dangers workers
face inside elevators brimming with highly combustible grain dust
at the end of harvest season. The blast fired an orange fireball
into the night sky, shot off a chunk of the grain distribution
building directly above the elevator and blew a large hole in the
side of a concrete silo.
The search for three people presumed dead was temporarily halted
Sunday because of fears that the building could fall on rescuers.
Local officials met with victims' families to explain why crews
pulled back, but understood they wanted their loved ones found,
Atchison City Manager Trey Cocking said.
The three Bartlett workers whose bodies have been recovered were
identified as Chad Roberts, 20; Ryan Federinko, 21; and John Burke,
Roberts planned to get married Nov. 19 and take a honeymoon
cruise to the Bahamas, said Alicia Cobleigh, his fiancée. She said
he liked to hunt and fish and took her fishing. They'd met in high
"He was fun, and he couldn't wait to be a husband and a dad,"
she said "We actually bought a house in April and remodeled it."
Family members and friends turned the sign outside the elevator
into a memorial for the workers. A sweatshirt with Federinko's name
written on it in marker also was marked, "Why!"
Among the missing was Travis Keil, a war veteran who had served
as a site inspector for 16 years. His parents, Gary and Ramona
Keil, drove from Salina to Atchison to wait with his three children
-- ages 8, 12 and 15 -- as crews searched.
"We have all our prayers working for him," Gary Keil said.
"It's a parent's worst nightmare to go through this."
Bartlett Grain President Bill Fellows said in a statement that
workers were loading a train with corn when the explosion occurred,
but the cause of the explosion remained unclear. The company
brought in a South Dakota-based engineer with expertise in such
accidents to help federal safety investigators at the scene.
Farmers take their grain to grain elevators after harvest to
store it before it is marketed or sold. The Bartlett grain bin is a
large, concrete structure for elevating, storing, discharging, and
sometimes processing grain.
Over the past four decades, there have more than 600 explosions
at grain elevators, killing more than 250 people and injuring more
than 1,000, according to the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration. Last year, there were non-fatal grain explosions or
fires in several states including Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio, South
Dakota and Louisiana.
When grain is handled at elevators, it creates dust that floats
around inside the storage facility. The finer the grain dust
particles, the greater its volatility. Typically, something --
perhaps sparks from equipment or a cigarette -- ignites the dust.
That sends a pressure wave that detonates the rest of the floating
dust in the facility.
Fireballs are a common feature of grain dust explosions, where
intense heat from the blast can reach 1,500 to 2,000 degrees.
Dust from corn is among the most dangerous. Most dust explosions
happen in late summer and early fall when old, dried grain is being
cleaned out of elevators in preparation for the harvest. Freshly
harvested corn is less explosive because its wetter.
The Atchison elevator, which is federally licensed to handle up
to 1.18 million bushels, is among roughly 850-plus elevators in
Kansas. The state is now winding up its fall harvest of corn,
sorghum and soybeans.
OSHA has expanded its inspections and efforts to control
volatile grain dust in Kansas elevators since an explosion in 1998
at DeBruce Grain, Inc.'s facility in Haysville, which killed seven
workers and injured 10 others, said Tom Tunnell, executive director
of the Kansas Grain and Feed Association, the industry group
representing Kansas grain elevators.
"If ever an industry is as well trained, it is ours. We
understand dust is an explosive agent and our members work hard to
control it," Tunnell said Sunday.
The Atchison facility where the blast occurred has not been
cited for any violations in the last 10 years, according to OSHA
data, though Bartlett Grain Co. was cited after two people died in
separate incidents at two of its other facilities. Neither of those
fatalities involved explosions at grain elevators.
In 2007, a Bartlett Grain maintenance employee died in a fall
from a work platform at the company's facility in St. Joseph, Mo.
In 2004, another employee died while operating a lift that fell
backward at a company site in Kansas City, Mo.
"The industry has had a good record -- except for a few of this
type -- considering the billions and billions of bushels of grain
handled," Tunnell said.
Hegeman reported from Wichita, Kan. Associated Press Writer John
Hanna contributed to this report from Atchison, Kan., and Maria
Sudekum Fisher, from Kansas City, Mo.