3 Dead, 1 Missing after IL Plant Blast

Sunday, May 5, 2019 @ 04:05 PM gHale

Debris is scattered across the street after an explosion Friday at AB Specialty Silicones on the border between Gurnee, Ill., and Waukegan.
Source: John Starks/Daily Herald via AP

There are now three victims from an explosion and fire at an Illinois silicone factory Friday after rescue workers found a third body Sunday in the rubble from the blast.

On top of that, the official death toll is expected to rise to four as authorities continue to search for the other body believed to be in the rubble of the Waukegan, IL, facility.

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Crews are weary of searching because of concerns about the stability of the structure. Waukegan Fire Marshal Steven Lenzi said they would not resume searching until what remains of the plant is torn down.

The four victims were among nine employees who were inside AB Specialty Silicones in Waukegan, about 50 miles north of Chicago, when the explosion occurred around 9:30 p.m. Friday, Lenzi said. Four were taken to hospitals and two declined treatment.

The Lake County coroner said Tuesday Jeff Cummings, 57, and Byron H. Biehn, 53, were killed in the explosion Friday night at the AB Specialty Silicones factory.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office had previously identified a worker who had been hospitalized but died Saturday as Allen Stevens, 29. He died at Loyola University Medical Center, said Natalia Derevyanny, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Lenzi said it’s unlikely the missing worker survived.

“The conditions are really rough in there,” Lenzi said. “There’s a lot of damage. There was a lot of fire throughout.”

The blast was heard miles away and the force shredded the plant, leaving little more than the skeleton of the building standing.

The plant typically operates 24 hours a day, mixing chemicals and other materials to make silicone, he said.

The cause of the explosion has not been determined, Lenzi said. The state fire marshal is investigating, along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It could be days before crews are able to resume their search because heavy piping and other materials that were inside the 30,000-square-foot (2,787-sq. meter) structure pose a danger to firefighters and investigators, Lenzi said.

Residents in the area said they heard the explosion and felt their homes shake. Five buildings nearby were damaged, with glass on windows and doors shattering, Lenzi said.

Mac Penman, general manager of AB Specialty Silicones, said in a statement that company officials were “shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy…”

“We have spent the day trying our best to support all of the members of our AB family as we attempt to process this terrible loss together,” he said.

The company said it makes specialty silicone chemical raw materials for products such as adhesives, sealants and coatings. AB Specialty Silicones said in a press release earlier this year that it expanded its corporate campus in Waukegan to four buildings with more than 240,000 square feet (22,297 square meters) housing headquarters, manufacturing, research and development and warehouses.

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