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Terre Haute, IN Meat Packing Plant Explosion, Jan 1963

Toll Believed 16 In Plant Explosion At Terre Haute

55 Injured When Packing House Wrecked

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - An explosion ripped the Wabash River front plant of Home Packing Co. at dawn Wednesday, killing a probable 16 men and injuring 55.
Eleven bodies were removed by rescue workers who wore gas masks as they dug through mountains of rubble in air foul with deadly ammonia and methane gas. Another body was spotted under the red brick ruins and Mayor RALPH TUCKER said there was no hope for four workers lost somewhere in the basement.
Broken refrigeration lines released the ammonia, and ruptured sewer lines were a possible source of the methane.
The rescue operation slowed as daylight faded, but about 50 men labored under floodlights to remove tons of brick and metal and planned to remain until the missing were accounted for.
Mayor TUCKER asked the gas utility to shut off gas mains in that section of the city, about eight blocks from the Vigo County courthouse.
BERNARD SWEENEY, Terre Haute, chief investigator for the state fire marshal, reported the gas "at blowing capacity" in the sewers around the wrecked plant.
Crowds were pushed back one block in all directions, and smoking was banned at the rescue site.
After 10 bodies were recovered, EUGENE BUTTS, assistant chief of detectives, said rescuers were certain five bodies remained in the plant's basement. One other worker was unaccounted for.
About 200 day workers had just reported for duty when the blast demolished about one-third of the two-story red brick meat packing plant about 7:30 a. m. (CST).
Among the dead was DONALD W. SCOTT, a salesman and brother of the firm's president, ROBERT SCOTT.
'We'll need a block and tackle to get him out," said ED BRIDGEWATER, 28, Terre Haute, a member of a mine rescue squad, peering at the dead man, buried in rubble up to his neck.
"He's still sitting in his chair."
The other dead removed from the wreckage were identified as LARRY L. CRUM, 20, Terre Haute; JAMES TROSPER, JR., 33, Rt. 3, Clinton; CARL BENDER, 48, Rt. 6, Terre Haute; JOSEPH DAVITTO, 58, Universal; ANDREW A. RUPSKA, 45, Terre Haute; HOMER ISLE, 57, Rt. 3, West Terre Haute; DARL G. GARRED, 21, Terre Haute; HENRY J. COTTRELL, 37, Rt. 3, Clinton, and JOHN J. CALLAHAN, 24, St. Mary of the Woods.
Employment records were buried in the debris, and most background information was not available on the victims.
GEORGE OBENCHAIN, secretary-treasurer, who identified the dead, estimated damage to the plant at close to $2 million.
FESLER reported 54 injured taken make any noise - just fell like an four were reported in serious condition. Many others were released after treatment. (Transcriber note: This is how it reads.)
Rescued unconscious from the rubble after four hours of painstaking digging was a shipping foreman, JOHN W. FISHER, Rosedale. A doctor clambered in close enough to give him three shots of morphine during the long rescue operation.
Mayor TUCKER, who rushed to the blast scene to direct the rescue work, said FISHER moaned, "Please help me,"during the hours it took to dig him out.
City and state police, firemen and civil defense workers were joined by the same mine rescue squad that worked in the Viking mine explosion that killed 22 miners near Terre Haute March 2, 1961.
RENE VERPLEATSE, 44, West Terre Haute, a dispatcher standing on a truckline dock across the street, reported, "It just crumbled, like the bottom fell out of it. Bricks were flying. It didn't make any noise - just felt like an earthquake. I was dumfounded."
But EDWARD MANERS, 26, heard a "big boom" in the slaughter room.
The first floor of the packing plant building fell into the basement freezing room.
"There's no hope left for anyone down there," said the fire chief.
"There was a blast and we hit the floor," said WILLIAM STOKES, 41, who was at work in a meat cutting room on the second floor.
"A conveyor table saved the roof from caving in on us completely. I crawled out through a little hole and down the face of the building'
GABRIEL LETURGEZ, 54, who was in the hog slaughter room, said he heard something that sounded like "a gush of wind" and then walked safely down a stairway in an undamaged part of the building.
ROBERT SCOTT, the president, had just walked out of the building to go to the main office building 50 feet away for coffee and escaped injury.

The Anderson Herald Indiana 1963-01-03

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