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July 19, 2018

Grain elevator explosion: What happened and what's next?
Courtesy SSC Police Department
Courtesy SSC Police Department
Michelle Kuester
Dakota County Star Editor

What happened on the day of the explosion?

An explosion occurred just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 29 in the upper reaches of a grain elevator owned by Andersen Farms located near the intersection of W. 24th and Fourth Streets in South Sioux City. The exact cause will remain undetermined until inspections are able to take place due to the degree of structural damage and uncertainty of safety around the structure, said South Sioux City Fire Chief Clint Merithew.

Four individuals were working at the time, said Merithew, one of whom was injured with burns to the upper portion of his body. This individual was transported to the hospital by South Sioux City Fire and Rescue and was then transported to a hospital in Lincoln. As of press time, the victim's family has requested no information be released about identity or status of the individual.

A fire started by the explosion in the area of the grain dryer which was extinguished after the gas supply was cut off to the scene nearly three hours and 20 minutes later.

Approximately 100 people were evacuated from their homes.

The South Sioux City City Council issued an emergency declaration at their meeting May 29 just after 5 p.m. officially designating the location a disaster area, a declaration which was upheld and confirmed by the Dakota County Board of Commissioners at their meeting Monday, June 4.


What has happened since?

On Wednesday, May 30, some families were allowed to return home once the situation was evaluated by structural engineers from the Urban Search and Rescue Team of Lincoln. As of Tuesday, June 5, 26 homes were still evacuated, said South Sioux City Police Chief Ed Mahon.

The grain elevator has been under constant observation to watch for any shifting or other potential dangers.

City officials and Andersen Farms have been in talks with contractors regarding demolition, and Tuesday morning, June 5, a week after the explosion, a contract was signed with Terminal Solutions of Radcliffe, Iowa, for the demolition, said Mahon.

Semi-trucks began arriving Tuesday afternoon with portions of a 270 foot tall crane that will bring down the grain elevator by means by wrapping wires around the structure and pulling it down incrementally from the top. The remaining portions of the crane arrived Wednesday, June 6. Demolition is expected to begin during the early parts of next week.

Mahon encouraged everyone to stay a safe distance from the structure and stay away from barricades, especially during demolition.

“The people who are doing [the demolition] should only have to worry about the machinery and the equipment, not about people walking around,” he said.


When can the evacuees return home?

Maintaining safety has been a sentiment echoed by all emergency personnel working on this project. Evacuees will not be able to return home until the grain elevator is brought down to a safe height, which is expected to be 50 feet or about the height of top of the melted metal grain dryer at the front of the grain elevator, said Mahon.

Evacuees will then be contacted by phone and notifications will be sent to media and on Facebook.

Once it is safe to return home, evacuees will need to check in at incident command at W. 27th and Fourth Streets and they can have gas turned back on to their homes.

“Public safety is paramount,” said Merithew. “It always has been. We aren't going to move people back until we're positive it's safe.”


Will the city receive any financial aid?

The Emergency Declaration issued at the May 29 South Sioux City City Council meeting and upheld at the June 4 Dakota County Board of Commissioners meeting allows the city to potentially access monetary aid from the Governor's Emergency Fund after a threshold deductible of $225,000 is spent.

The Governor's Emergency Fund was established by the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, and it allows the governor to assist any political subdivision that experiences a disaster or emergency that imposes a severe financial burden on a community.

One of the largest expenses regarding this disaster is the money spent on overtime hours to the round-the-clock emergency services personnel.

“We have to keep track of everything we spend,” said Oscar Gomez, assistant city administrator. “There has to be a paper trail. It's all falling on their (police and fire departments') shoulders and we're just trying to help them in any way we can.”


Comments from Mayor Koch

“I've been very happy with the city's response,” said South Sioux City Mayor Rod Koch. “They were on the scene within minutes... Everyone wants to get back in their homes, but we have to wait until it's safe, and the city is going to continue to make sure it's safe.”

The mayor also credited Deanna Hagberg (Director of Dakota County Emergency Management), Mahon and the police department, Merithew and the fire department, and the surrounding communities for coming together to assist in this joint effort.


Community support

Several local businesses have donated food and beverages to the first responders and many people have sent well wishes.

“It's a phenomenal amount of acceptance,” said Merithew. “Also, the other agencies that have put their lives on hold, the people in the community that care and understand how much of a deal this is, it really means a lot.”


Responding emergency services

Fire and Rescue: South Sioux City, Dakota County, Homer, Emerson, Winnebago, Ponca, Newcastle, North Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff, Sioux City; Emergency Management: Dakota County, Cedar County, Dixon County, Knox County, Wayne County, Thurston County, Winnebago; Law Enforcement: South Sioux City Police Department, Dakota County Sheriff's Office, Wayne Sheriff's Office, Nebraska State Patrol, Sioux City Police Department; Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD); Red Cross, Salvation Army, Dakota County Health Department, South Sioux City School Safety Team, South Sioux City School Crisis Team, South Sioux City Chamberettes, South Sioux City Optimists, StarCom Communications Bus, South Sioux City Fire Auxiliary, Dakota City Fire Auxiliary.

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