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Grain Dust: Just Like Dynamite

Photos by Dan Verbeck/KCUR.
Outside the explosion site, a sunflower motif was to have been November wedding theme of victim Chad Roberts.( Click to enlarge.)

By Dan Verbeck


Atchison, KS. – The bodies of six Kansas men have been removed from wreckage of an Atchison grain elevator that exploded Saturday night. No other victims were sought. KCUR's Dan Verbeck reported from near the site on perils of working around volatile grain dust.

The Bartlett Elevator, along the Missouri River, south end of town is missing chunks of concrete and superstructure from the fireball blast. A dirty brown smoke wafted from atop the building as tons of grain still smoldered Monday, expected to slowly burn for days or weeks.

Most of the dead, men were in their 20's. Four worked for the company, two were grain inspectors.

The dead were identified by the company or by the Kansas Grain Inspection Service. They include, Atchison residents Chad Roberts, 20, Curtis Field, 21 and Ryan Federinko, 20. John Burke,24, was from Denton.

Darrek Klahr, 43, of Wetmore and Travis Kiehl, 34, of Topeka were grain inspectors.

32-year rural Atchison farmer Gerald Ernzen stopped within view of the heavily damaged elevator complex to honor the six, and talk about--"that dust. When it's confined, it's just like dynamite."

This is the first fatal grain elevator explosion this year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 1998 a Haysville, Kansas explosion killed seven people.

Atchison County Sheriff's Deputy A. E. Buckingham felt the roar of the current one at his home, miles away-- "It's amazing this doesn't happen more often. I know they've got a lot of regulations and a lot of safety precautions put into place. I know it used to happen way more. I think more people suffocate working in the grain bins than die from explosions. It's a hazardous job."

Any kind of spark will set off grain dust. OSHA investigators will try to learn what ignited this. And it may take months.

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