January 8, 1998 in Nation/World

4 Workers Missing In Blasts At Explosives Plant Six Others Hurt In Nevada Explosion Heard 20 Miles Away

Sandra Chereb Associated Press
 

Two explosions powerful enough to trigger earthquake monitors leveled an explosives plant near Reno on Wednesday, leaving four men missing and injuring six.

Twelve employees were inside the Sierra Chemical Co. plant near Lockwood, about 12 miles east of Reno, when witnesses heard two consecutive booms and saw a large plume of black smoke just before 8 a.m.

Officials initially said three men were confirmed dead, but later backed off, saying bodies had not yet been found. And a delivery truck driver initially thought missing was not at the plant when it exploded, officials said.

After an afternoon of searching, Washoe County Sheriff Dick Kirkland said crews found no obvious signs of survivors. They planned to resume their search today.

“Everything is in a million little bits,” Kirkland said. “It just flattened the whole place.”

One survivor, Gustavo Alcala, 29, of Reno, said he and several others were trapped after the second blast.

“I yelled for help from my coworkers but they couldn’t hear me,” Alcala said from his bed in the intensive care unit at Northern Nevada Medical Center in Sparks.

Alcala said some of the trapped workers found a hole in the side of the building and crawled out with a severely burned co-worker.

“We went down a hill to put him in the safe place,” Alcala said.

The blasts were felt as far away as Fernley, 20 miles east.

Both main buildings at the plant were flattened, while smaller buildings had windows blown out and were riddled with shrapnel, said Sheriff’s Sgt. Bill Petty.

Kirkland said the first unexplained explosion happened in an unoccupied building as workers in an adjacent building mixed two chemicals to make a highly explosive material. Several workers ran out of the second building seconds before the second blast, Kirkland said.

Surveying the site with binoculars, firefighters were forced to wait to attack three blazes in the ruins, fearing there would be more explosions.

The two explosions registered magnitude 2 on nearby seismological monitors at the University of Nevada-Reno.

“We received a number of reports from people who felt the explosion,” seismologist John G. Anderson said. “Probably what most people felt is the air wave that the explosion generated.”

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