Eagle Grove, IA Explosion In Downtown, Feb 1973
BLAST ROCKS EAGLE GROVE.
FEAR VICTIMS IN RUINS OF STORE, CAFE.
FIRES ERUPT AFTER EXPLOSION.
Eagle Grove, Ia. -- Several persons were presumed dead after an explosion that leveled a downtown store and adjoining cafe here Friday evening.
The explosion occurred at 6:18 p.m. and was followed by flames that engulfed the Coast to Coast store and the Chatterbox Cafe.
Authorities said WOODROW LOUX, an Eagle Grove fireman, died of an apparent heart attack as he arrived at the scene.
Most reports said nine persons were in the cafe when the blast occurred. There were some reports of cries for help coming from the wreckage of the two buildings shortly after the explosion.
"There were nine to 19 perople in the restaurant," said Mayor KENNETH BRAUMAN. "We can't even get to it, everything's on top of it."
WALTER MARTINS, 62, of Eagle Grove said he and his wife were in the cafe 15 minutes before the explosion occurred.
"We smell gas, and I told the cook, LUCELLE ANDERSON, and she said it was just the oven, and not to worry about it."
BRAUMAN and TERRY JOHNSON of Spencer, an agent for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, compiled a list that identified eight persons as probable victims. MRS. ANDERSON is among the missing and presumed dead.
There were several apartments above both destroyed buildings and on the third floor of an adjoining jewelry store, but no reports were available as to how many persons were in the apartments at the time of the blast.
Eagle Grove residents said the Chatterbox Cafe hald fish fries every Friday night.
Witnesses said the number of persons eating in the cafe was fewer than usual because a church was having a chili supper Friday night and a number of residents went there to eat.
A temporary morgue was established at the Memorial Hall here.
Mayor BRAUMAN was not injured in the explosion, although he said, "I usually eat there every Friday night for the fish fry."
"Full Of Dust"
The mayor said when he arrived, five minutes after the explosion which occurred at 6:18 p.m., he found the air "full of dust." He said there was smoke rising from the rubble, but there was no fire.
The mayor said the Coast to Coast store had been completely blown away by the explosion and the cafe "looked like a pile of dirt." Of the cafe, he said, "just the roof is laying on top -- everything else is in the basement."
An Eagle Grove police officer, MIKE WELP, 23, said he was about three blocks away when the explosion occurred. He said he "saw a flash in the sky. It was just a poof."
WELP said he immediately called the 30-member Eagle Grove volunteer fire department.
He said he saw a child's doll lying in the middle of the street and thought at first it was an infant, but then realized it was only a doll.
No Sign Of Life.
He said he could observe no sign of life or movement in the rubble.
Fire broke out about three minutes after the explosion, WELP said.
At midnight, no bodies had been recovered from the rubble. Eagle Grove fire officials said the rubble was still "too hot to get into."
A spokesman at Bethesda Hospital in Fort Dodge, about 20 miles from Eagle Grove, said the staff had been alerted to possible casualties "and we have called all our extra people in, but so far we have received no casualties."
"We have concluded that those caught in the explosion are beyond help," the spokesman added.
No one was in the Coast to Coast Store at the time. It had closed about 5:30 p. m.
EARL LAWSON, part-owner of the Gulf service station 50 feet from the Coast to Coast store, was in the station at the time. "Everything exploded," LAWSON said. "The windows just started coming in a splattered all over."
"We looked out and all we could see was smoke and dust and bricks flying."
Another Eagle Grove resident who was in the service station said the blast "only took a few seconds, but it seemed like an hour."
LAWSON said large fires in both businesses started after the blast and hindered rescue efforts. He said that fire-fighting equipment from surrounding towns had been summoned to Eagle Grove.
The fires still were burning at 10 p.m., and rescue workers were unable to get into the buildings. Authorities were calling for derricks to help life debris from the area.
TIM FLETCHER, 19, manager of the DX service station across the street, said he was talking to a truck driver, at the time of the blast.
"I heard a big explosion," he said. "Fire started to shoot out the back side of the building less than a minute after the explosion. No one came out of the buildings."
FLETCHER said a large window exhaust fan from the cafe slammed into the side of his service station.
Witnesses to the blast said the Cedar Falls High School wrestling team, in town for a meet with the Eagle Grove High School team, left the cafe moments before the blast occurred. They quoted the team's bus driver, who was not identified, as saying he had smelled gas while in the cafe.
Seven to 10 ambulances also were summoned, and both entrances to Broadway, Eagle Grove's main street, were blocked with emergency vehicles.
WILBUR JOHNSON, state fire marshal, arrived here from Des Moines about 10:30 p.m. After surveying the blast scene he said he believed the explosion was caused by natural gas.
"Natural gas explosions blow up a building from the top out, while LP gas blows a building from the bottom out," JOHNSON said.
JOHNSON said it would be "well into Saturday" before he could attempt to pinpoint a cause. He said it probably also would be that long before bodies could be removed from the rubble.
He said a large loder would arrive here from Fort Dodge this morning and would begin removing debris.
Iowa Public Service crews were on hand shortly after the explosion and began shutting off gas to the area.
All windows within a one-block radius and in most businesses along Broadway were shattered by the explosion which was felt as far as 30 blocks away at the junior high school here.
Damaged in the blast were LOCKE'S Jewelry Store and the M. Bar L. Western Shop which are on the same side of the street as the cafe, and the Coast to Coast store, and four other businesses across the street.
Adjutant Gen. JOSEPH MAY, commander of the Iowa National Guard, said the state fire marshal's office had sent help.
Several witnesses reported looting shortly after the explosion at the Coast to Coast Store, LOCKE'S Jewelry Store, and a hardware store. The area was cordoned off by Iowa State Highway troopers.
About 25 members of C Company, 747th Battalion of the Iowa National Guard, which is based in Eagle Grove, were summoned to duty to help in rescue efforts and prevent looting.
One Eagle Grove resident, who asked not to be identified, said the Iowa Highway 17 near the blast scene was covered with debris for half a block.
He said merchants and residents were boarding up broken windows with plywood, which had been donated for that purpose.
All Eagle Grove policemen were summoned to aid sheriff's deputies from Hamilton, Webster, Wright and Humboldt counties, and Iowa Highway Patrolmen and State Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents.
The American Red Cross (ARC) sent two disaster action teams from Mason City and three first aid workers from Fort Dodge.
"We'll set up a shelter to care for the injured, if necessary," said ALTFELDT, a spokesman for the ARC.
The Coast to Coast store and the cafe occupied two separate two-story buildings covering about a half block at the corner of Commercial and Broadway streets.
One apartment resident, JAMES McDERMOTT, who lived above the Coast to Coast store, said he had left his apartment at 5:50 p.m., about 40 minutes before the blast. He said he returned to the Fareway Store, where he is the assistant manager, when the blast occurred. He said windows at the store were blown in, and he ran back to the Coast to Coast store.
"All I've got is what I have on my back, but if I would have waited to leave until 40 minutes later, I wouldn't have a back."
McDERMOTT said the lost $900 in cash what was in his apartment. A picture of himself that had floated to the street in front of the demolished building was recovered by an onlooker, however, and returned to him.
Nearly all incoming telephone calls to Eagle Grove were blocked and communications were being handled by "ham" radio operators.
In Des Moines, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) set up contact with three ham operators in Eagle Grove.
ALAN HARRIS, an amateur radio operator on duty at the Red Cross center at 406 Fifth Ave., said a Red Cross first aid van, four first-aid specialists and a nurse were sent to the disaster site.
CHUCK JOHNSON, owner of the cafe, and his wife, MARILYN, who operates it, had both left Friday afternoon to start a trip to Hawaii. They had gotten as far as Des Moines, where they were to spend the night, before being notified of the explosion.
The Des Moines Register Iowa 1973-02-03