WAUKEGAN, Ill. — The remains of another person missing in the rubble of an exploded chemical factory since Friday have been found, authorities said Sunday.
A total of four people are believed dead after the AB Specialty Silicones factory exploded, including three who were inside at the time of the blast, and a fourth who died afterwards in the hospital.
After scouring the area with cadaver dogs for several hours Sunday, crews eventually located the spot where the victim was buried under the weight of the building.
“This is by no means over until we’ve located all victims,” Waukegan Fire Marshal Steven Lenzi said.
Nearly two days after the explosion, neighbors are still shocked by the standing skeleton of a building, debris stretching from an open field to the treetops across the street.
“It’s just very devastating and heartbreaking, and we're hoping and wishing that they can find the last that are missing,” neighbor Mary Hiett said.
Monique Lindstrom, who works in accounting at AB Specialty Silicones, said she heard something that “didn’t sound right” Friday night and a supervisor tried to warn people to get out of the building.
The explosion sent flames shooting from the factory, and its blast was felt as far away as Wisconsin. Emergency crews from 30 agencies spanning Lake, Cook and Kenosha counties responded to the scene. It took more than 100 firefighters six hours to put out the fire.
Authorities spent the days since scouring the site piece-by-piece, removing debris and cutting into the hard-to-reach areas blocked by rubble and twisted metal to find three people who were missing since the blast.
“It’s slow going, we can’t go in there and do what we want to do quickly because the building is not structurally sound,” Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper said.
Anthony Madonia, an attorney for AB Specialty Silicones, said one of the men who did not make it out of the plant was one of 20 employees who are partial owners of the company.
At the time of the explosion, Madonia said, the three people who did not escape were actively mixing products — a process they’ve done hundreds of times before.
“Everyone feels terrible,” Madonia said. “It’s a tight-knit group. … Our hearts are broken.”
In all, nine people were inside of the plant at the time of the explosion. Two were able to walk away unharmed, but four were hospitalized. Among them was 29-year-old Allen Stevens, who died Saturday in the Loyola University Medical Center burn unit. Stevens is the only victim who has been identified.
One body was recovered Saturday morning, but firefighters needed to call off their search for the remaining two people because it was too unsafe to sift through the rubble.
The Lake County Coroner's Office says it will begin the process of identifying the remains on Monday, likely using dental records, Cooper said.
Authorities said the explosion damaged 90 percent of the plant, causing severe structural damage that is estimated to cost more than $1 million. At least five nearby buildings were also damaged.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring air conditions. Sand dikes were put in place to filter out particles in the water before the particles hit sewer drains. There are contaminants in the building, but an evacuation order has not been issued for nearby residents.
The Illinois State Fire Marshal and OSHA are investigating, but so far the cause remains a mystery.