Two people were killed and 17 others were injured, four of them critically, when an animal feed plant collapsed and burst into flames Monday in Omaha, Neb., officials said.
Interim Fire Chief Bernie Kanger confirmed the two deaths Monday night, saying both of the victims were on the second floor of the three-story International Nutrition Inc. building. One of the bodies was recovered late Monday afternoon, but the second remained at the scene Monday night. Operations to recover that body were suspended Monday night because of severe weather.
All of the 36 other employees who were in the building when it collapsed about 10 a.m. (11 a.m. ET) were accounted for, Kanger said. Ten were taken to hospitals, four of them with critical injuries. Seven other people with minor injuries were treated at the scene.
Investigators said the cause of the collapse remained unknown. The recovery and investigation were moving slowly because the remaining structure was highly unstable, they said.
"There was a third-floor collapse and a second-floor collapse onto the first floor, so there is substantial damage," Kanger said. "We've got tens of thousands of pounds of concrete, reinforced concrete and steel" to deal with.
"It's pitch black in there. I had to feel my way out," said Nate Lewis, who was on the first floor and used his cellphone's flashlight to escape.
Kari Cook told NBC station WOWT that her fiancé, John Broderick, sent her a text message at 10:09 a.m.:
"Major accident. I'm hurt and trapped. I love you."
Broderick, who works on the second floor of the building as a supervisor, was rescued and taken to the hospital with broken ribs and a deflated lung, Cook said.
Records of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which will be in charge of the investigation, show that International Nutrition has been fined at least twice before for safety violations: first in August of 2002, after a rotating part killed an employee who fell in a mixing tank, and again in November 2011 after a safety inspection identified six "serious" violations.
— M. Alex Johnson and Nadia Sikander