Blast#039;s cause determined

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 7, 2002

Dust explosions lead to the largest explosion

at the Hormel plant Sept. 5 , according to state fire marshall Tom Brace.

Brace said the events started about 12:30 a.m. Thursday by a series of dust explosions in a tank,which weakened a gas line. That line ruptured, which then caused a major explosion around 2:40 a.m., Brace said.

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The explosion occurred in the 29 x 29 foot grinder room in the rendering department, said Austin fire chief Dan Wilson.

Hormel Foods has been cooperating with the fire department, fire marshal and OSHA during the investigation, said Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Joel W. Johnson.

Wilson agreed, "On the record, the company has been so willing to cooperate with us, I can't say enough about them. They have cooperated with us at every turn."

Five men were injured in the explosion.

Jeremy McCullough, of Albert Lea, was treated and released from Austin Medical Center. Chad Swenson, 21, Joe Welke, 54, and Lee Johnson, 50, all of Austin, were listed in fair condition Saturday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Andrew Wolf, 33 of Austin, also is at Regions but asked the hospital not to release any information on his condition.

Lynn Snyder, a Regions hospital supervisor, said Swenson, Welke and Johnson's conditions had not changed since Friday. "They're doing really good," Snyder said.

The Johnson family was contacted Friday and did not comment on his condition.

James Freeman, Wolf's neighbor, said Wolf's fiance and mother have been keeping Freeman updated on his condition. Freeman expressed concern for Wolf.

"He was doing his job and this is what happened to him," Freeman said.

Johnson said the company's primary concern is with the injured workers and their families. Another priority was to begin repairing the damage cause by the explosion, he said.

"We expect this work to be completed by the middle of next week," Johnson said.

Damage cost estimates were not available as of Saturday.

Hormel expects the rendering department to reopen Sept. 11.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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