Fire Chief says injured workers were in direct path of blast

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 5, 2002

A fire that broke out early Thursday in the rendering department at Hormel Foods didn't surprise Austin Fire Chief Dan Wilson.

"We've been here before. We're very familiar with this part of the building." The rendering department disposes of the carcasses of the animals once all the meat is removed, Hormel spokesperson Julie Craven said.

Shortly after the fire, three small explosions occurred. The first happened around 12:40 a.m. and the larger explosion occurred around 2:45 a.m.

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Wilson said the workers' injuries occurred "from direct contact' with the explosion, noting the workers weren't injured by steam. "That room is going to have to be rebuilt," he said.

Greg Rebozo, who lives in the 900 block of 8th Avenue NE, said he was sleeping on a sofa when the explosion occurred.

"I heard noises from the police, the sirens," he said. "There wasn't a lot of them, but there were a lot of lights. I heard the sirens and was wondering, 'Did someone die?' I didn't know if something blew, or if something was on fire."

Rebozo said he didn't see any smoke or flames coming from the plant shortly after police arrived.

John Morrison, a spokesman for Local 9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said "our only concern right now is the welfare of the injured workers and their families."

Morrison said the local union will do everything it can to "reach out to those workers and their families in this time of need."

The decision to restart and where to resume the operations will be made later, Craven said. Other workers uninjured in the explosions were reassigned to other duties today.

Except for a delay at Quality Pork Processors, Inc., the hog slaughtering and meat processing plant on the Hormel Foods plant grounds, all other operations were underway at the plant today and all shifts working. Austin fire trucks were seen going in and out of southeast portion of the plant Thursday morning.

Craven said the incident was the biggest and most serious in the 15 years she has been with the company. "We have a safety record that has not only gotten better over the last 10 years," but also is one of the best in the industry, she said.

She also said there probably would not be "a good estimate on the cost of damage until later today."

The plant is operating as normal today, except for the rendering department, Craven said.

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