Blast Levels Milwaukee Warehouse, Kills Three

A massive explosion and fire Wednesday morning in an industrial complex near downtown Milwaukee killed three people and injured nearly four dozen others, flattening a warehouse and rattling nearby homes and buildings.

According to Lt. Brian O’Connor, public information officer for the Milwaukee Fire Department, the blast occurred at 8:07 a.m. CST Wednesday in a warehouse owned by the Falk Corp., which makes industrial gears and couplings at its 60-acre complex just southwest of downtown Milwaukee near the Miller Park baseball stadium.

O’Connor told Occupationalhazards.com that three people had died and 47 people had been transported to local hospitals, with three of those believed to be in critical condition.

Citing the Milwaukee Police Department’s investigation, O’Connor said that workers told authorities that they smelled propane before the explosion. Media reports also have quoted workers as saying that they smelled propane, leading to speculation that a leak in a large propane tank might have been the culprit of the blast.

O’Connor said that workers were in the process of evacuating at the time of the blast, and he added that the evacuation most likely minimized the casualties. He said the Falk Corp. employs around 750 workers over three shifts at the industrial complex.

Bob Hitt, CEO of Milwaukee-based Rexnord Corp. – the parent company of the Falk Corp. – said that the company is “working closely with authorities to better understand exactly what happened to cause this tragedy and to ensure the area is safe and secure. We are also working with our employees to make sure they have access to services to assist them through this terrible ordeal.”

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic incident at our facility today,” Hitt said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Our prayers and thoughts are first and foremost with the families of those who lost their lives and with those who were injured.

“The safety of our employees has always been a top priority at our company, and we are proud of the way our employees handled today’s terrible incident. Established safety and emergency procedures were put into place almost immediately, and our employees’ quick action in the face of an unthinkable situation undoubtedly saved lives.”

Hitt also thanked “the emergency personnel from numerous jurisdictions who responded so quickly to this incident, Mayor Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee County Transit System, the Milwaukee Brewers and local businesses for helping to protect and take care of our employees.”

“Milwaukee has been our company’s home for more than 100 years,” Hitt said. “We are proud to be a part of this special place and want the community to know that their prayers and good thoughts will help us and our valued employees through this difficult time.”

“The whole thing collapsed”

According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the blast triggered car alarms and hurtled debris into the sky – breaking windows and unmooring garage door bolts in the blue-collar Merrill Park neighborhood.

Katie Porter, who was commuting to her job nearby, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the blast shoved her car off the road.

“I saw the building explode outward and then just fall in,” she told the newspaper. “The walls were pushed outward, and the whole thing collapsed.”

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