Bartlett grain elevator explodes in Atchison, Kas.

by Ron Sterk
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ATCHISON, KAS. — The death toll has been raised to six after an explosion Oct. 29 ripped the top off the Bartlett Grain Company, L.P., elevator in Atchison after the bodies of three missing workers were recovered Monday morning.

Three Bartlett employees were confirmed dead at the scene following the 7:00 p.m. explosion on Saturday, according to the city of Atchison. Three others, including two government grain inspectors, were confirmed dead after their bodies were recovered on Monday. Search operations had been temporarily halted on Sunday until it could be determined the structure was sound enough not to endanger those searching.

Two employees had been airlifted from the site and were in the burn unit of the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kas. One was listed in critical condition and the other in serious condition on Sunday night. Four other workers at the facility were not injured, the city said.

The explosion blew the two- to three-story head house off the top of the 125-foot concrete structure, most of which was still standing, although a hole also was blown in its side, according to press reports. Parts of the head house still were hanging from the top, which in part caused the search for missing workers to be temporarily halted on Sunday because of concerns about the structure’s stability.

Milling & Baking News was awaiting comment from the company.

The exact cause of the explosion, which could be heard three to four miles away and sent a fireball into the sky, was not known, but an Atchison city official said grain dust was suspected. A press report indicated workers were loading a train with corn when the explosion occurred.

It was the worst grain elevator mishap since seven workers were killed and 10 were injured in an explosion at the DeBruce Grain Inc., facility in Haysville, Kas., on June 8, 1998.

An inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was at the scene Sunday, and Bartlett brought in a structural engineer to aid in the search.

The facility had not been cited for any OSHA violations in at least the past 10 years
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The elevator had storage capacity of about 1.3 million bus, according to Milling & Baking News. The company has 1 river facility, 12 terminal facilities, including two in Atchison, and 13 country elevators, and ranked 20th in total U.S. grain storage capacity in 2010 with 58,329,000 bus.
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