Structural Problems, Dust Explosion Possible Causes Of Building Collapse

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Federal safety investigators are looking at structural problems and a dust explosion as possible causes of Monday's industrial building collapse in Omaha that killed two workers and injured 17 others.

Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman Scott Allen says investigators are working with structural engineers and combustible dust experts as part of their investigation into the collapse of the International Nutrition building near 77th and I streets. The plant makes nutritional products that are added to livestock and poultry feed.

Allen said Wednesday that it likely will be weeks before investigators identify a cause of the collapse. He added OSHA investigators were able to enter the heavily-damage building Tuesday and gather some evidence and photos, but declined to say what that evidence included.

Authorities recovered the body of 47-year-old David Ball from the rubble on Tuesday, a day after recovering the body of 53-year-old Keith Everett.

Co-workers tell WOWT 6 News that Everett did not have family in Omaha. They say he is from North Carolina and he had planned to leave on Wednesday to vacation there. He was going to visit his mother.

Interim Fire Chief Bernie Kanger said Tuesday evening, “We are prepared to say at this time that we don’t expect to find any other victims in that structure.”

The Nebraska Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue team was back at the site of the building collapse on Tuesday. The second body was recovered at 3:45 p.m.

Officials told WOWT 6 News the cold weather and wind have not affected the recovery effort, however, the building is still considered very unstable and dangerous.

Kanger said OSHA will be responsible for conducting the accident investigation. The Omaha Police Department will handle the death investigations of the two victims.

Meanwhile, those injured in the accident continue making progress. The two patients at the Nebraska Medical Center have been upgraded. The 37-year-old, with a collapsed lung, is now listed in fair condition, and the 50-year-old male, who came in with hypothermia, is now in good condition.

Officials at Alegent Creighton Medical Center reported the male patient there has been upgraded to fair condition. The patient who had been treated at Bergan Mercy has been released.

Kendrick Houston was one of the injured. We met with him Tuesday and he didn’t want to let go of his 1-year-old daughter Jordan. Houston operates the forklift at International Nutrition and was thrown to the ground by the collapse of the building. He was 15-feet from the blown out doors.

“It's been rough to get the news this morning. I kind of knew yesterday when I left work. The employees that were lost, good friends of mine. I'm at a loss for words."

After hours in the hospital, his back pain lingers from being thrown to the ground Monday. "It seemed like an earthquake in Nebraska. It blew me and my co-worker to the floor. There was a fire on top of us. We just got out of there."

Then they tried to go back into the chaos of the crumbling building. “We tried to go back in. We were the ones closest to the closest exit. I ran back in to call out a couple co-workers names. The fire was still going. The smoke was so thick. It was black in there. I was inhaling too much smoke."

Houston said he talked with a few co-workers on Tuesday. With 13 months on the job they feel like family. “Everybody's really distraught about the situation." He said his priority now is to get his mind and health back so he can make a living for his family. He also wants to be there for his co-workers.

Erick Ocampo was burned in the building collapse and he was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s in Lincoln for treatment.

Erik Ocampo

He tells his family that there was a time when he was in the shattered shell of International Nutrition that things looked very grim.

ON Tuesday afternoon Erik’s wife, Alison Ocampo said, ”He told me the first thing he thought about was us, his daughter and I, and he said he was not going to make it. That’s the first thing he thought: 'I don’t think I'm going to make it.'”

But he made it out and he’s been reunited with his family. They’re thankful that Erik is recovering but know he has a long way yet to go.

Erik’s mother Mariam Ocampo said, “Thank God he’s alive. It’s the most important thing now and I know he will recover from this. It will probably take time but he will recover.”

Back at the accident site, the Salvation Army was once again at the scene Tuesday. Salvation Army officials said their goal on the scene of a disaster is to help meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of both the victims and the rescue workers - whatever those needs might be.

International Nutrition released the following statement Tuesday from company president Steven J. Silver:

“We would like to express our sympathies and condolences to the families of our employees who lost their lives yesterday. We also offer our thoughts and prayers for a swift recovery to those injured and affected by the accident. Many of our employees have worked with us for more than 10 years, and in a family-owned business like ours, the developments that have taken place over the last day are difficult for all involved.

We are Omaha natives, and have owned the company for more than 35 years. We are proud members of the Omaha and State Chambers of Commerce, and have always emphasized the importance of safety. We work with the Nebraska Chapter of the National Safety Council and our procedures are ISO 9001 certified.

In our more than 35 years of doing business, this is the most serious incident to ever happen at our operation, and we are fully cooperating with all government investigators to find the cause.

Our thanks to the many employees who helped and supported each other in the wake of the accident, and our appreciation to the firefighters, rescuers and medical personnel who took care of those employees needing attention.

In the coming days we will assess the damage and explore alternate methods of meeting our customers’ needs. In the meantime, our focus remains on the wellbeing of employees and the search for the cause of this terrible accident.”

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners issued a statement Tuesday. It read, "On behalf of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and all of our Douglas County employees, I offer our heartfelt sympathies on the losses suffered by the families of those injured and killed in yesterday's tragic industrial accident in Omaha. Once again, we see how fragile an precious life is. Take a moment to share your feelings with those close to you."

Posted January 20, 2014

One of the two people believed to have been killed in a massive structural collapse at the International Nutrition plant on Monday has been identified as 53-year-old Keith Everett. His body was removed from the building debris Monday evening.

Keith Everett

Everett’s body was recovered at 5:16 p.m. but operations had to be suspended for the night due to harsh weather conditions. Authorities said they hoped to recover the second victim on Tuesday.

The incident happened near 77th and I Streets around 10 a.m. Monday. Authorities received a report of a fire in the building with people possibly trapped inside.

Firefighters arrived to find a building that was in pieces. Interim Fire Chief Bernie Kanger said Monday night that the top two floors of the three-story structure had crashed down to the first floor.

"Right now, we're classifying this as an industrial accident," Kanger said Monday afternoon. What caused it was a mystery.

Thirty-eight workers were inside the building when it collapsed. At least 10 people were taken to the hospital; several others suffered minor injuries. Kanger said OFD crews rescued five of those inside. They had to cut away a twisted mass of concrete and steel to reach one of them as the unstable building continued to crumble.

Kanger said 50 Omaha Fire personnel were dispatched to the scene and six medical units were sent for mass casualty care.

Four of those transported were critically injured. Six had non-life-threatening injuries and seven refused care. As of Monday night, investigators believed that two people had died. Authorities believed that all others known to have been in the building had been accounted for.

Just after one o'clock, several workers, who had been inside the building, came out of International Nutrition. Nate Lewis told WOWT 6 News he was on the first floor. He said, "It's pitch black in there. I had to feel my way out." Lewis added that he also used the flashlight on his cell phone to escape the building.

Lewis said first responders had been keeping him and a few others in a room. They were given food and blankets to stay warm. Many of the workers had cuts, bumps and bruises.

Another worker, Jamar White, said, "I can't describe it. Intense. I'm just happy to be here." At the time of the explosion, he was outside working on a truck. He said he felt the fire on his back, but was uninjured.

Jamar’s mother, Terri Lynn Davis, said, “He was outside working; washing the trucks. And he said someone called out for him, He didn't know who it was. He walked towards them and he said the next thing he knew there was a big explosion. He felt the heat. He said he felt the heat on the back of him and he kept running and running."

At 2 p.m., the operation switched from rescue to recovery mode. Emergency crews were pulled out of the unstable structure that threatened to take a larger toll.

Kanger said, "Our initial crews performed with tremendous bravery."

Officials contacted Nebraska's Urban Search and Rescue Team, based in Lincoln, for help. They were on scene by 2:45 p.m.

The Omaha Fire Department also had a chaplain at the scene in the International Paper parking lot, to speak with families of employees. The American Red Cross was also available with its mobile unit.

The Nebraska Medical Center reported that they've received four patients: a 50-year-old male with hypothermia, (he had reportedly been lying down in water for some time); a 37-year-old male with a collapsed lung; a 38-year-old man with minor injuries and a 30-year-old with minor injuries.

By Monday night, the Nebraska Medical Center was continuing to treat two patients: the one with the collapsed lung and the one with hypothermia.

The Medical Center's Medical Trauma Director, Dr. P.J. Schenarts, said when the call came in for mass casualties, the hospital jumped into action. They had a total of 30 to 45 staff members ready for patients.

"We had a handful of trauma surgeons who were all right at the door," Dr. Schenarts said. "We paired each surgeon with a resident surgeon and a nurse practitioner, so there were a series of teams."

Six patients were taken to Alegent Creighton Health hospitals after the accident at International Nutrition. Three patients went to Creighton University Medical Center and three to Bergan Mercy Medical Center.

By Monday afternoon one patient at CUMC had been upgraded to serious condition. Two patients were transported to St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center. At Bergan Mercy, one patient was listed in serious condition Monday afternoon while two patients had been treated and released.

Five medical units and several officers responded to the call when it first came in just after 10 o'clock however a Level One Multi-Casualty alert was issued almost immediately after the first crews arrived on scene.

One firefighter was injured at the scene, suffering a hand laceration.

Kari Cook told WOWT 6 News her fiancé, John Broderick, sent her a text message at 10:09 a.m. It read, "Major accident. I'm hurt and trapped. I love you." Broderick works on the third floor of the building as a supervisor. He was rescued and taken to the hospital with broken ribs and a deflated lung.

Kari raced to the scene. A trusted co-worker stood by her side as they waited to get any word on whether John had made it out. That word took three hours to arrive.

Kari said, “I got a call. It was from Creighton. They said we have John here. He's in the ICU. And I blanked out from there because all I heard was ICU."

Kari raced to Creighton to be by John's side.

She said, “He's got eight stitches up here from concrete and a few stitches here. He's got cracked ribs; the lung deflated."

Amazingly, John can talk. He told Kari he was on the third floor when the roof came crashing down.

Kari said, “I don't know if you've seen the front of the building but it's about this big and John is 6' 4. He was trying to crawl out and from what I understand from him he got assistance coming out there. Our firefighters are absolutely amazing. That would have been a long drop. A very long drop for him.”

Rescued and alive, John remained in the ICU Monday night.

Kari told us, “The biggest concern with the doctors right now is they think he might have bruised his heart and with the violent impact of everything today we're really worried about the heart rate."

Kari and John had just picked out their engagement ring. She said it took her seven years to find him and she'll be by his side as he recovers.

“It's been a long day,” she said. “It's been a very tough day. And I consider us to be extremely lucky that he's got some broken bones."

She also said, “We're very lucky compared to the others whose family members have lost someone."

Adam McCall works at LA Marketing, near International Nutrition. He told WOWT 6 News he heard a loud noise and then saw a fireball, seconds before the building collapsed. He immediately called 911.

Rob Rohwer is a former employee of the plant and he was among those who assembled outside of the building as word of the accident spread.

“I would never guess that something like this would happen, he said.”

After six years on the job, he knows the plant inside and out and he told us, “I'm definitely praying for the victims."

Larry McElhinney was behind the wheel of a truck that was sitting in wreckage by Monday afternoon. He told us, "Those on the other side heard a boom but I didn't hear a thing. I was sitting in the truck and heard stuff hitting top of cab and saw a bunch of dust. I didn't hear any explosion. I saw a bunch of people running."

Stacey and Alyssa Stout were among those who spent long hours in the throes of extreme anguish Monday. They awaited word about their father, Duanne Stout, and other employees they thought of as family.

They first got word of the incident if a phone call from their father. He told them something had gone terribly wrong at work.

Stacey told us, “He said it felt like it was an earthquake. He braced himself and that's why I think he went under his desk to take cover because he didn't know exactly what had happened.”

Duanne is a maintenance supervisor and was in the front office at the time.

Hours went by as Stacey and Alyssa waited. Then came their reunion.

Alyssa said, “I’ve never see my dad cry. And you know he's in pain if he's crying.”

The Stouts say the employees of International Nutrition are a tight community and and it's been tough on everyone.

We spoke with Duanne right after he had visited an injured co-worker at the hospital. He described the scene inside the collapsed building and told us there was blood on the walls and water everywhere.

According to its website, International Nutrition has serviced the U.S. feed industry for over 40 years.

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration records, a worker was killed in this plant in 2002 when he fell into an auger.