Firefighters stage outside the International Nutrition plant in Omaha, Neb., Monday, where a fire and explosion took place Jan. 20, 2014. At least nine people have been hospitalized and others could be trapped at the animal feed processing plant. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(USA Today)-- An explosion at an Omaha animal feed processing plant Monday collapsed part of the building, killing at least two people, officials said.
Interim Fire Chief Bernard Kanger said that there are an unknown number of fatalities as a result of the explosion at the International Nutrition plant in south-central Omaha.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who oversees the coroner, confirmed at least two deaths at the plant.
Kanger said crews have stopped rescue efforts and will start a slower recovery effort to retrieve victims. He said the plant is unstable, and recovery workers must move carefully.
He said 10 people were hospitalized, including four in critical condition, and another seven declined medical attention for injuries.
He said 38 people were working in the plant at the time of the blast. It was not clear how many got out unhurt.
The cause of the blast has not yet been determined, but Kanger said there were no hazardous chemicals at the plant.
A forklift operator, Kendrick Houston, told the Omaha World-Herald he was walking on the plant's main floor after a morning break when the it began to tremble.
"There was this real loud crackling sound, and the lights went off," Houston told the newspaper. "I saw a spark, and there was a big ball of flame coming from the southwest corner of the building."
He and a co-worker hit the ground as debris, smoke and dust rained on them.
"It happened so quick," said Houston, 38. "Then we just got up and ran out."
Once outside, Houston decided to try to go back into the plant to help coworkers still inside.
"I ran back in," Houston said. "I yelled their names, but they didn't answer."
"It was disarray," Houston said. "All the lights were out. It was pitch black. ... I think it was still burning in that corner."
Plant worker Nate Lewis, 21, said he was on the first floor when he heard the blast. The building went dark, so he used light from his cellphone to make his way across the production floor to safety outside.
"I was a production line worker, although I don't know if I want to be that anymore," said Lewis, who's worked at International Nutrition for about four months.
The plant sits in an industrial area visible from Interstate 80, which bisects Nebraska's largest city. There are no residences nearby and no other buildings were evacuated after the explosion.
Jamar White said he heard a loud crack and then looked up to see the back wall of the building collapsing.
"I ran at least 150 feet," White said. "I ran far enough to make sure nothing else would keep falling."
Afterward, White said, he could see inside the third floor of the building where at least two co-workers were screaming for help.
Contributing: Associated Press
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