Police: Mortar round caused deadly plant blast

August 25, 2014 - 7:04 PM
Plant Explosion Granite City

Emergency workers head in to Totall Metal Recycling in Granite City, Ill., Monday morning, Aug. 25, 2014, following an explosion at the recycling plant. Police say two people are dead and more are injured after an explosion. Officials fear more explosions, perhaps from live ammunition rounds. (AP Photo/Belleville News-Democrat, Derik Holtmann)

GRANITE CITY, Ill. (AP) — A mortar round exploded Monday at a suburban St. Louis metal recycling plant that does business with the military, killing two people.

The explosion at Totall Metal Recycling in Granite City occurred about 6:25 a.m., police said. Totall Metal Recycling, which employs about 160 people, according to its website, does business with the military and it's not unusual for it to have items such as "military engines and ammunition casings," police chief Rich Miller said.

Bomb technicians were sweeping the site for other possible explosives Monday afternoon.

The victims, whom responders could not initially get to because of the fear of further explosions, were not immediately identified. A third person was injured and taken to a St. Louis hospital, police said, but a condition was not available.

"This corporation recycles everything you can think of, from plastics to cardboard to metals, and some of their contracts involve getting materials from the military," Miller said at a briefing for reporters near the plant Monday afternoon.

He said authorities do not suspect any malicious intent and were investigating the explosion as an "industrial accident." Miller did not comment on whether the facility has ever received a live mortar before or whether proper procedures were followed in handling it, saying that would be part of the investigation. He also said investigators are looking at what was happening when it exploded.

The Illinois secretary of state's bomb squad was dispatched to the scene to support an explosive ordnance disposal unit from Scott Air Force Base, secretary of state's spokesman Henry Haupt said. Also on the scene were agents from the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and St. Louis city and county police agencies, Miller said.

Robert Nosbisch, resident agent in charge of the ATF in Fairview Heights, said it's not unusual in a situation like this one to get help and other resources from area agencies with expertise in explosives. The heat played a role, too, requiring the rotation of investigators wearing special gear, Miller said.

A statement released by the company did not give any details about what might have occurred. It said the firm was cooperating with local, state, and federal authorities.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families as we collectively cope with this tragedy," the statement said. "We are committed to providing each employee and his or her family with counseling resources during this difficult time."

No information was released Monday on the victims pending positive identification, Madison County chief deputy coroner Roger Smith said.

Prather Elementary School, with about 500 students in kindergarten through fourth grade, is about half a mile west of the plant. Granite City School Superintendent Jim Greenwald said the students reported to school shortly after the accident occurred and classes proceeded normally, though the principal decided to keep the students inside for recess.

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O'Connor reported from Springfield.