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3 more victims of grain elevator blast found

| Monday, Oct. 31, 2011

ATCHISON, Kansas — Three more bodies were recovered Monday from the burnt wreckage of a Kansas grain elevator where a weekend explosion killed six people and injured two others, a company official said.

The first three bodies were found during the weekend but unstable concrete, hanging steel beams and other damage had forced crews to temporarily suspend the search for the remaining victims at the Bartlett Grain Co. facility in Atchison, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City.

The final three victims' bodies were recovered Monday morning, said Bob Knief, a Bartlett senior vice president.

Knief declined to discuss the identities of the three victims found Monday, but relatives identified two of them as Curtis Field, 21, and state grain inspector Travis Keil. They have said the third person also was a state grain inspector.

Farmers take their grain to grain elevators after harvest to store it before it is marketed or sold. The Bartlett grain bin is a large, concrete structure used for elevating, storing, discharging, and sometimes processing grain.

The explosion was a harrowing reminder of the dangers grain elevator workers face. When grain is handled at elevators, it creates dust that floats around inside the storage facility. The finer the grain dust particles, the greater its volatility. Typically, something — perhaps sparks from equipment or a cigarette — ignites the dust. That sends a pressure wave that detonates the rest of the floating dust in the facility.

The danger tends to be greater toward the end of the harvest season when the elevators are brimming with highly combustible grain dust. Saturday's blast fired an orange fireball into the night sky, shot off a chunk of the grain distribution building directly above the elevator and blew a large hole in the side of a concrete silo.

The three Bartlett workers whose bodies were recovered earlier were identified as Chad Roberts, 20; Ryan Federinko, 21; and John Burke, 24.

Bartlett Grain President Bill Fellows said in a statement that workers were loading a train with corn when the explosion occurred, but the cause of the explosion remained unclear. The company brought in a South Dakota-based engineer with expertise in such accidents to help federal safety investigators at the scene.

Over the past four decades, there have more than 600 explosions at grain elevators, killing more than 250 people and injuring more than 1,000, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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