1 killed, 2 missing, 13 injured in Didion mill explosion, officials say

Schools closed in Cambria-Friesland Thursday

Columbia County officials said one person was killed, two people are missing and 13 were injured overnight Wednesday in an explosion at the Didion corn mill in Cambria.

Cambria Village President Glen Williams said the explosion was reported around 11 p.m. at the Didion Milling plant in the 500 block of Williams Street.

Cambria resident and Village Trustee Shannon Dunahee heard the “boom” sound of the explosion and headed to the mill immediately. She said she saw survivors coming out of the building.

“They were covered, covered in whatever was in the air. It just looked like dust,” Dunahee said. “Some of the clothing, they have those white shirts, lab coats and everything–they’re singed. They look like kids: pants torn, pants singed.”

Sixteen employees were working inside Didion Milling at the time of the explosion, according to a news release from the Village of Cambria Thursday. Two employees were treated at the scene and released, 11 were taken to the hospital. Two employees are believed to be missing.

One of the people injured is a 23-year-old man, a family member said. He reportedly lost both his legs after a train car fell on him during the explosion. The family told News 3 he’s only worked at the plant two to three months. He doesn’t normally work second shift but volunteered for for it Tuesday night before the explosion.

Another survivor told News 3 it took him 45 minutes to climb out of the rubble. He had to get 8 stitches in his arm, but walked away from the wreck without further serious injuries, he said.

Didion Milling Vice President Derrick Clark said in a statement that the company, which has been in business for 44 years, is working with authorities.

“The Didion team has grown to be a close knit family, and we ask for your prayers during this difficult time,” Clark said.

A spokesperson from the Beaver Dam Community Hospital told News 3 they are treating people who were injured in the explosion, but wouldn’t say how many people or the extent of their injuries.

UW Hospital in Madison confirmed it is treating five patients. Four of them are being treated in the burn center and one is being treated in the trauma and life support center.

“This is very difficult for everyone that has been there,” said Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards. “Families sat for hours waiting for information.”

“The big thing everyone has to realize is the fire was still active,” said Richards. “You had fire departments trying to put it out to get inside and get to those who needed assistance.”

Schools in the Cambria-Friesland District are closed Thursday due to the explosion. The school district said it is evaluating whether the high school graduation scheduled for Friday will go on or move to a different location.

‘A big explosion happened, then everything just collapsed’

Nayeli Hernandez, who has worked at the plant for over three years, told News 3 a group of her friends was trapped inside the building after the explosion. She said two of them are out safe, but two are still missing.

1 killed, 2 missing, 13 injured in Didion mill explosion, officials say

“I got a phone call from my brother. I called a co-worker who is another lab tech. They were trapped inside. A big explosion happened, then everything just collapsed,” Hernandez said.

Officials with the Madison Fire Department said its Heavy Urban Rescue Team from Madison responded to the plant and helped rescue a man who was trapped underneath a train car and piles of rubble. He was taken to the hospital via Med Flight.

Williams said the three- or four-story structure housed the mill’s lab. He said the structure was leveled in the explosion. He said there is no danger to the public at this time, and no need for evacuation.

Williams said the mill processes corn and corn by-products for ethanol plants. Didion’s ethanol plant is across the street from where the explosion happened, and it is not in any danger, Williams said.

1 killed, 2 missing, 13 injured in Didion mill explosion, officials say

Didion Milling President Riley Didion doesn’t know what caused the explosion. “What we ask for is prayer. That is all we know at this point. It is still too early to know the cause,” Didion said.

The mill was cited in January 2011 for exposing workers to hazards associated with dust explosion and other fire hazards , according to a report by the Associated Press. The records say filters in the plant lacked an explosion protective system.

Families were initially directed to the Columbia County Highway Shop at 119 E. Second St. in Cambria to learn more about relatives who may have been injured. People are now being directed to First Presbyterian Church at 121 W. Florence St., where the American Red Cross has opened a reception center to aid people affected by the explosion.

Red Cross spokeswoman Barbara Behling said the group served at least four dozen people Thursday morning at the Highway Shop.

1 killed, 2 missing, 13 injured in Didion mill explosion, officials say

Williams said Didion employs a lot of people from the village and puts money back into the town.
Williams said he lives four blocks away from the plant and felt the explosion.

The Village of Cambria said anyone who wants to help or offer supplies can contact the Cambria Village Office at 920-348-5443 or cambria@centurytel.net.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials said all lanes of Highway 146 are closed in both directions between highways 16 and 33 due to the ongoing incident.

Widespread power outages were originally reported in the area, but power was restored a couple of hours after the explosion.

The American Red Cross is assembling a team to help families affected by the explosions. Officials said six or more families could have been affected.

Twenty-three fire departments, four medical helicopters and multiple police, EMS and other agencies were called to the scene.

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