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1 Dead, 2 Missing in Va. Explosion

March 6, 2000

RADFORD, Va. (AP) _ Search dogs Monday located the bodies of two women under mounds of debris in an auto parts factory where an explosion also killed a co-worker.

The blast at New River Castings on Sunday night threw clouds of black soot over a wide area and left the building still smoldering the next day.

``There’s mass destruction, a hole the size of a football field in the center of the plant,″ Fire Chief Lee Simpkins said. He estimated damage at $30 million.

Rescuers and search dogs worked their way through charred, twisted metal in the factory. The dogs discovered that the women were buried under ``a tremendous amount of debris″ _ so much that it will take days to get to them, said Dan Crumrine, a dog handler.

``Our priority is to find and remove these loved ones,″ Simpkins said. ``This is going to be a long process, it’s not going to be done overnight.″

Company officials and fire officials said they didn’t know the cause of the explosion. Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on the scene. Radford is about 160 miles west of Richmond.

Firefighters and maintenance workers found the body of Curtis Grooms, 29, near the core of the explosion. The missing women were identified as Karen Anderson Hamilton, 35, and Debbie Sheppard, 37.

About 100 workers were in the plant when the blast sent orange flames as high as 20 feet in the air. One of them was Hamilton’s husband of six months, Buford Douglas Hamilton, who was working on a forklift when the explosion happened but was uninjured.

With soot still in his ears from the blast, he said he tried to find his wife, and planned to wait outside the plant until she was found.

As many as six workers were hospitalized, with two still in serious condition Monday. Other workers were treated for smoke inhalation and cuts and bruises.

Max Horton, 41, of Bluefield, W.Va., was working Sunday night about 40 feet from the missing women.

``Next thing I know there was a fireball looking at me square in the face,″ he said after being treated at a hospital and released. ``There was an explosion and it was lights out for me.″

New River Castings and a related parts manufacturer, Radford Foundry, are owned by Troy, Mich.-based Intermet Corp., which employs about 1,000 people in Radford. The two plants, which make transmissions and other iron parts for the auto industry, cover several blocks.

``This is the saddest day of my life,″ said John Doddridge, Intermet’s chief executive. ``Buildings are replaceable. People are not.″

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On the Net: Intermet Corp. Web site: http://www.intermet.com