The investigation into what caused a deadly grain elevator explosion Monday afternoon is just beginning.
It happened around 1:30 p.m. at Union Mills Co-Alliance in LaPorte County.
Police say 67-year-old James Swank, who works for the Co-Op, was near the top of a concrete grain elevator during the blast. He died from multiple blunt force traumas.
No one else was injured.
The Indiana State Fire Marshall, LaPorte County Sheriff’s Office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are on the scene investigating.
While they’re not sure what caused the accident, the LaPorte County coroner says it could have been a grain dust explosion. He says it’s believed Swank was loading grain at the time of the blast.
In addition to grain, the business stores herbicide, fertilizer and anhydrous ammonia. But, a preliminary investigation reveals none of those chemicals were involved in the blast or released as a result.
“You just hate to see these kind of accidents happen,” said Robert Scott, who lives across the street. “I could see where the windows were blown out and not.”
While there doesn’t appear to be much damage on the outside of the structure, investigators say the force from the blast cracked the concrete on the inside of the grain elevator and may have compromised the integrity of the east silos.
“It appears the grain elevator did what it was supposed to do with an explosion of this type,” said LaPorte County Chief Deputy Jim Sosinski. “They usually go out the top. And, that's what happened here. All the damage is out top.”
Neighbors say the force of the explosion shook their homes. They can’t recall any similar incidents happening over the past 25 years. But, Robert and Frances Scott say they’ve talked about the potential for an accident at the site.
“When we heard about that one I think in Texas that blew up, we said, ‘Let's hope to God they built this good,’” Frances said.
The LaPorte County Coroner says Swank was close to retirement and lived just a couple of miles down the road from the facility.