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Explosion Damages S.Dakota School

November 18, 2000

PLANKINTON, S.D. (AP) _ Rescuers early Saturday were working to free a man trapped under concrete debris hours after a gas explosion tore through a brick school building and ignited a massive fire.

Extrication equipment arrived shortly after midnight Friday, but fire crews had to get the blaze under control and stabilize the rubble before efforts to reach the man could begin.

``If we put firefighters in there now, we’ll be putting them in great risk,″ state Fire Marshal Dan Carlson said.

Rescuers lost voice contact with the trapped school administrator at about 10:30 p.m., Carlson said. Much of the school, housing grades kindergarten through 12, was destroyed.

The names of the administrator and two other men hurt in the explosion were not immediately released. A janitor and a volunteer firefighter were flown to a burn center in Sioux Falls; their conditions were not immediately known.

A propane leak caused the explosion, Carlson said.

``There was a leak around the boiler and an accumulation of LP gas, and something ignited it,″ he said.

Firefighters hauled water from surrounding towns after they emptied the water tower in Plankinton, leaving residents without water.

School officials smelled a gas leak at about 5:30 p.m., Carlson said, and evacuated wrestlers from the gym. The explosion happened at about 7:20 p.m., when only the three men were inside.

English teacher Dennis DeGeest said a new propane regulator had been installed Friday after the boiler malfunctioned.

Rhonda Lautt, who lives a block away, said she felt her house shake from the explosion.

``I was out in my kitchen, and I can see the schoolhouse ... and it’s still burning,″ she said.

The glow from the blaze was visible up to 5 miles outside town, according to witnesses.

Brian Knigge, a 16-year-old sophomore, watched the fire with friends, pointing out rooms being destroyed by the flames.

``English, Spanish, sixth, fifth, ... the office and the computer labs,″ he said.

Plankinton is about 90 miles west of Sioux Falls.

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