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Grain Blast Death Toll Rises to 4

June 10, 1998

HAYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) _ The death toll in a grain elevator explosion rose to four Wednesday with the discovery of a body and the identification of another victim’s remains. Rescuers continued to dig through the cascading grain in hopes of finding two other missing workers alive.

The search for the two men in one of the complex’s tunnels was suspended during the afternoon after a rescuer was buried up to his armpits in falling grain. The worker was not hurt.

``This is a very dangerous occupation,″ said district Fire Chief Ken Cox.

About 40 workers were digging into the 7-by-7-foot underground tunnel from opposite ends and were expected to meet during the afternoon.

``We’re still in rescue mode,″ said Phil Kirk, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. ``We’re not giving up because there’s still hope we can find someone who is still alive.″

The blast, apparently caused by a spark that ignited highly explosive grain dust, happened Monday at the DeBruce Grain complex south of Wichita.

Two men, Jose Prajedes Ortiz, 24, and Jose Luis Duarte, 41, were killed, and four were trapped. Eleven others were injured, and two of them remained in critical condition.

County Coroner Corrie May said human remains found Tuesday were identified as those of one of the four trapped workers. Another body was found Wednesday morning by searchers shoveling through grain 600 feet into the tunnel. The body and the remains were discovered 100 feet apart.

Authorities were not yet able to identify the two victims. The missing have been identified as Howard Goin, Noel Najera, Victor M. Castaneda and Raymundo Diaz-Vela.

Paul DeBruce, president of DeBruce Grain, based in North Kansas City, Mo., said that there were problems with the dust collection system at the time of an inspection last August but that they had been resolved.

More than 100 rescuers were on the scene Wednesday, some of them members of the Oklahoma City Fire Department who worked on recovery efforts after the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people.

Searchers used super-sensitive listening devices, heat-detecting cameras, tiny video cameras on long poles and trucks that vacuum up grain and debris through hoses.

Update hourly