Explosion at VA manufacturing plant kills at least 1

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1 Dead, 2 Missing in Va. Explosion

RADFORD, Va.--An explosion accompanied by clouds of black soot and flames as high as 20 feet tore through an industrial plant, leaving one worker dead, two missing and seven injured. "There's a lot of twisted metal everywhere you look," Fire Chief Lee Simpkins said Sunday following the blast at New River Castings, an automobile parts manufacturing plant. The cause of the explosion was under investigation, Simpkins said. He estimated damage at $30 million to $50 million. About 100 workers were in the plant at the time of the 9:30 p.m. blast, Simpkins said. Dogs had been brought in to search the rubble for the missing employees. Firefighters and maintenance workers found the dead worker near the core of the explosion, Simpkins said. The seven injured workers were hospitalized and one was released this morning. Two were in serious but stable condition. Other employees were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and minor cuts and bruises. Firefighters worked overnight to put out one remaining hot spot being fueled by residue dripping from a tank near the location of the explosion, Simpkins said. The area is where the two missing women are believed to be, and the search will resume once that fire is extinguished, he said. A worker who asked not to be identified told The Roanoke Times that employees had been informed of a natural gas buildup in the basement of the plant. Representatives of United Cities Gas Co., a natural gas supplier, were on the scene. According to witnesses, flames shot as high as 20 feet and a wall at the plant's main building was destroyed. "All of a sudden I saw a big orange ball of fire, and everything was pitch black," plant worker Scott Hetherington told the newspaper. Sherri Birkelbach, who lives about three blocks from the plant, said the explosion "sounded like something was coming through the roof of my house." New River Castings and a related parts manufacturer, Lynchburg Foundry, are owned by Troy, Mich.-based Intermet Corp., which employes about 1,000 people in Radford. The town is about 30 miles west of Roanoke. The two plants make transmission and other iron parts for the auto industry.


-- cin (cinlooo@aol.com), March 06, 2000

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