An Omaha, Nebraska animal feed processing plant, International Nutrition, has reportedly suffered a partial collapse this afternoon in the wake of an apparent explosion. At this time at least nine people are reported injured.
Social media has been flooded with updates and photos of the collapsed plant including some showing extensive damage and smoke billowing from the structure. Local news outlets first reported the explosion and subsequent fire at about 10 a.m. local time.
The nine reported injured have been taken to local hospitals for treatment and have primarily suffered burns, according to local officials. Firefighters are continuing to search the plant for anyone who may be trapped by the fire or debris inside. They report that the situation inside the plant is dangerous and unstable. No fatalities have been reported at this time.
Current Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger has reportedly requested assistance from search and rescue experts in the nearby city of Lincoln, indicating to some that the efforts may be ongoing for some time to come. The requested assistance team is reportedly comprised of about 25 people and employes canines as well. Local officials have requested that residents stay clear of the area as clean up begins and rescue workers continue their efforts. No other buildings or residences have been evacuated in the area at this time.
Friends and family members of the approximately 38 International Nutrition employees at work at the time of the explosion have gathered outside the plant awaiting news of their loved ones. They are reportedly part of a tight-knit community of friends. Several reported having received phone calls or text messages from workers inside the plant. One Omaha woman told a local news outlet that she had received a text message from her boyfriend, an eight-year plant employee, shortly after 10 a.m. reporting that he was trapped and hurt inside the building following a “major accident.” No further word as to his condition has been reported.
Some employees began to be released from the plant at around 1:00 p.m. local time. One exited the building soaked from sprinklers that had gone off following the explosion and fire. He reported that everything went “pitch black” and that he had to use a cell phone to find his way around.
Another employee reported that he had just stepped outside when the explosion occurred and that he could feel the heat from the fire at his back as he ran from the structure. He said that he looked back to see a large section of the building missing and could hear fellow employees yelling for help.
International Nutrition has declined to comment on the incident that Omaha police are calling an “industrial accident” at this time. There are reportedly no explosives kept on site at the plant, though grain dust is known to be highly combustible. The privately held locally owned company has been in business for more than 40 years and is a manufacturer of animal nutritional supplements and other feed products.
Today’s explosion and subsequent building collapse injuring at least nine marks the first serious incident at the Omaha plant since a man was reportedly crushed to death there in 2002. The plant was fined for multiple OSHA violations at that time.
By Michele Wessel