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Nevada Explosion Leaves 4 Missing

January 8, 1998

LOCKWOOD, Nev. (AP) _ Gustavo Alcala knew his job was dangerous. He’d been trained to work with explosives and warned to follow the rules to the letter.

Wednesday he found out how dangerous, when two powerful blasts leveled the explosives plant where he worked near Reno, leaving four of his co-workers missing and six injured. The missing are feared dead.

The consecutive explosions _ which left 29-year-old Alcala and several others trapped in one building _ were so strong that they registered magnitude 2.0 on earthquake monitors at the nearby University of Nevada-Reno and were felt as far away as Fernley, 20 miles east.

``I yelled for help from my workers but they couldn’t hear me,″ Alcala said from his bed in the intensive care unit at Northern Nevada Medical Center in Sparks. He was in stable condition after suffering a blow to the head and eye and facial injuries.

The search for the missing was called off at night and was to resume today.

Alcala and 11 other workers were inside the Sierra Chemical Co. plant when the two blasts sent a plume of black smoke billowing into the sky just before 8 a.m.

Another employee and a delivery truck driver initially were feared missing, but officials later determined the two were not at the plant at the time of the explosions.

Alcala said some of the trapped workers found a hole in the side of the building and crawled out, carrying 24-year-old Benigno Orozco, who was severely burned.

``We went down a hill to put him in the safe place,″ Alcala said. Then they tried to go back in, but co-workers, afraid of more explosions, ``wouldn’t let us in.″

Two workers were examined at the scene and remained to help rescuers.

Washoe County Sheriff Dick Kirkland said there were no obvious signs of survivors.

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

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

Fearing more explosions, fire officials waited until afternoon for three propane fires to burn themselves out before they searched for survivors and bodies. But the search was expected to take some time, since the blast and fires were so fierce.

The buildings contained cast primer, a TNT-based product used in mining, said Lynn Kinder, one of the company’s owners.

``It’s a nightmare, truly,″ Kinder said.

Five people were treated at Washoe Medical Center in Reno for burns, breathing problems and eye injuries, spokeswoman Kerri Garcia said.

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