2 dead, 2 missing after Waukegan industrial plant explosion

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Sunday, May 5, 2019
2 dead, 2 missing after Waukegan industrial plant explosion
Two people are dead and two others are still missing and presumed dead after a large explosion at a silicone plant in Waukegan Friday night.

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (WLS) -- Two people are dead and two others are still missing and presumed dead after a large explosion at a silicone plant in Waukegan Friday night.

Daylight revealed the devastation after the large explosion tore apart the AB Specialty Silicones plant near Sunset Avenue and Northwestern Avenue, killing one worker while leaving two others missing and presumed dead. A second victim died later at the hospital.

It took crews several hours just to begin a slow search of the front of the building, which is where they concentrated their search efforts.

Employees say the two missing men are a lab tech who had only been at the company a short time and a supervisor who may have saved lives by alerting others to get out when he realized something was wrong.

It's been a long and arduous task. Heavy equipment brought in to carefully remove debris from what crews believe to be the approximate location of two missing men.

"We literally have to go piece by piece by piece to make sure we don't miss anything," said Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper. "We originally got here at three o'clock this morning. And by the time the equipment got here. Everything just takes a long time. We're just trying to go slow and methodical and make sure we do everything the right way and then we'll be able to get the folks we're looking for."

The body of one man was recovered Saturday morning. But while the coroner says they believe they know who they are looking for, he also said they will likely have to use dental records to identify the men, once all are located.

One of the confirmed deaths is 29-year-old Allen Stevens. He was one of four employees taken to the hospital in the immediate aftermath. He passed away from his injuries at Loyola's burn unit Saturday.

In total, the Waukegan Fire Department said two people are confirmed dead, two people are missing, three people were treated at the hospital and two others required no aid.

Nine people in all were inside the plant at the time. What caused the explosion remains under investigation.

The owner and general manager of AB Specialty Silicones, Mac Penman, released a statement Saturday saying, "We are shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy that occurred in our plant last night. We have spent the day trying our best to support all the members of our AB Family as we attempt to process this terrible loss together."

The Lake County coroner said they will resume their search Sunday morning. But he cautioned, even if they are located tomorrow, his office will not begin the process of identifying them until Monday.

The Lake County Sheriff reports the explosion came from the AB Specialty Silicones plant in the area near Sunset Avenue and Northwestern Avenue in Waukegan.

The explosion at the plant was captured by several home video doorbells around 9:30 Friday night.

Many stunned residents didn't know what to think.

WATCH: Photos of the aftermath of the explosion in Waukegan

Photos by Glen Holcomb of the large explosion in Waukegan.

"You could just feel the walls shake. It was almost like a sonic pulse. Luckily, I didn't have any windows broken out, but you could definitely feel it. It was unlike anything I've felt before," said Waukegan resident Tim Stevens.

The force of the blast also sent debris in some cases several miles away.

Saturday, the investigation into what caused the deadly explosion continued.

"We do have good interviews. We've been getting extremely good cooperation from anybody that was in the building," said Waukegan Fire Marshal Steven Lenzi.

Meanwhile, a community remains devastated by the loss of life.

"I send a huge prayer to the families who don't really know what's going on with their loved ones right now. And to the owners. This is quite devastating. Not only to them, but to our whole community," said Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham.

Thirty different departments and over 100 firefighters from Illinois and Wisconsin responded to the scene according to Lenzi.

Sand has been put out to stop hazardous material from the plant from getting into the already swollen river.

The Illinois State Fire Marshal and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating what may have caused the accident.

Lenzi said the building has sustained 90 percent or more damage, with damage estimates exceeding at least $1 million.

Plant explosion damages nearby homes, businesses

Nearby home and business owners are also dealing with the aftermath of the explosion.

Nearby home and business owners are also dealing with the aftermath of the explosion.

The explosion rippled at least 20 miles from Waukegan.

"I live about 20 miles north in Kenosha and I was sitting watching TV downstairs and I heard the windows shake in the house and asked my wife did you feel that, too?" said David Rettig who owns the building next to the plant.

The widespread damage of Friday's fiery blast was revealed in depth Saturday.

"Even our building which is about 50 yards apart from the explosion site, the ceiling started falling off on top of us and the sprinklers went on. We have several things damaged from there even in our building," said witness Cesar Cerda.

Kimberly Gaughan and her husband just moved to the neighborhood. Their house is directly behind the facility. First the explosion, followed by a power outage, then the couple noticed damage to their new home.

"So this is one of our windows that was shattered last night. So on the inside there's glass and then a lot of things that were hanging on the wall inside the garage fell down also," said Gaughan.

For other surrounding business it may mean weeks of re-construction.

"The building is pretty damaged and there are several things that have to be replaced before we can resume operations," Cerda said.

For now, businesses and home owners are assessing the damage and figuring out where they go from here.