WAUKEGAN, Ill. — A massive explosion at a Waukegan silicone plant is believed to have killed three people. Fire officials recovered one body Saturday, and said two other missing people were presumed dead.
The explosion happened about 9:30 p.m. Friday at the AB Specialty Silicones plant in the 3700 block of Sunset Avenue in Waukegan. The north suburban blast was felt as far away as Wisconsin.
Four people were hospitalized Friday night. Details about their conditions were not immediately available.
Two others at the plant, a 30,000-square-foot facility that operates 24 hours a day, were able to walk away unharmed.
First responders late Friday learned three of nine people who were inside the building at the time of the explosion were still missing. One body was recovered Saturday morning, but firefighters needed to call off their search for the remaining two people because it was too unsafe to sift through the rubble. Cadaver dogs are being used.
Fire Marshal Steven Lenzi said it may be days before crews can go back in and continue recovery efforts. Crews will need the help of heavy equipment to help secure the building.
Anthony Madonia, an attorney for AB Specialty Silicones, said one of the men who did not make it out of the plant was a partial owner of the company. Twenty employees have partial ownership through incentive shares.
At the time of the explosion, Madonia said, the three people who did not escape were actively mixing products — a process they’ve done hundreds of times before.
“Everyone feels terrible,” Madonia said. “It’s a tight-knit group. … Our hearts are broken.”
Authorities said the explosion damaged 90 percent of the plant, causing severe structural damage that is estimated to cost more than $1 million. At least five nearby buildings were also damaged.
Emergency crews from 30 agencies spanning Lake, Cook and Kenosha counties responded to the scene. It took more than 100 firefighters six hours to put out the fire.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring air conditions. Sand dikes were put in place to filter out particles in the water before the particles hit sewer drains. There are contaminants in the building, but an evacuation order has not been issued for nearby residents.
The cause of the explosion is still unknown. Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate.
Employee Monique Lindstrom, who works in accounting, said she heard something that “didn’t sound right” Friday night. She also said a supervisor tried to warn people to get out of the building before the explosion.