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Explosion Destroys S. Dakota School

November 18, 2000

PLANKINTON, S.D. (AP) _ A gas explosion tore through a school building and ignited a massive fire, killing one man and injuring another. Rescuers on Saturday were working to free a third man trapped under concrete debris.

Extrication equipment arrived early Saturday morning, but fire crews had to get the blaze under control and stabilize the rubble before efforts to reach the man _ a school administrator _ could begin.

``They’ve successfully rescued people after two to three days in similar circumstances, so we’re hoping for the best,″ state Fire Marshal Dan Carlson said.

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

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

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

The school custodian, was flown to a Sioux Falls hospital where he died, hospital officials said. A volunteer firefighter who had been helping out with the faulty boiler remained hospitalized in serious condition.

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.

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

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

Plankinton is about 90 miles west of Sioux Falls.

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