Davenport, IA Flour Mill Explosion, May 1975
ONE DEAD IN DAVENPORT BLAST.
Davenport (AP) -- A fiery explosion tore through an upper section of a flour mill on Davenport's riverfront shortly after noon Friday killing at least one person, police said.
An hour and one half after the ripping blast, police said two persons were missing and six had been taken to local hospitals with injuries, mostly burns.
A worker at the International Multi-Food plant said about 90 persons were in the building when the blast occurred about 12:10 p.m.
There were four explosions in all, witnesses said.
Scott county Sheriff Kenneth Paulsen said the two missing persons may have been blown out of the plant and into the nearby Mississippi River.
Searchers were checking the rubble and the river for the missing.
The explosion was felt across the river in Rock Island and Moline, Ill.
Paulsen said an army helicopter rescued one worker from the roof of a 100-foot storage bin.
The sheriff said the first explosion apparently occurred in a wheat storage bin adjacent to the plant where grinding and milling is done.
The dead man, whom authorities did not identify, was found on a catwalk between sections of the plant.
One report said a barge on the Mississippi was blanketed with debris and was believed sinking.
People in buildings 18 to 20 blocks away said they felt the explosion and the Davenport Bank and Trust building on corner of Main and Third streets a half-mile away downtown had windows blown out from the explosion.
The plant is the old Robin Hood flour mill, which is located along the Mississippi River on the east edge of the city just north of downtown.
Cedar Rapids Gazette Iowa 1975-05-23
GIVEN UP FOR DEAD, MILL WORKER RESCUED FROM SILO.
Davenport (UPI) -- FRED RYHERD of Hampton, Ill., was given up for dead after being listed as one of two men missing when an awesome explosion ripped through the International Multi-Foods Corp.
grain and flour mill complex here Friday.
But, early Saturday, the grain inspector and retired air force pilot, was plucked by an Iowa National Guard helicopter from high inside a heavily-damaged silo at the complex -- badly burned but still alive.
One person was confirmed killed in the blast which occurred about 12:45 p.m. Friday, with a total of seven persons hospitalized and one missing.
The dead man was identified as FERREL CLEETON, 42, Davenport, a plant employe whose body was found under debris. It was theorized CLEETON was blown from a catwalk from some 100 feet above the ground by the force of the blast.
RYHERD was found high up inside the silo after a security guard patrolling the rubble-strewn complex heard someone cry "Help! Help! Help me somebody. I'm by Robin Hood's hat."
"Robin Hood's hat" referred to a huge Robin Hood Flour trademark high on the silo.
A national guard helicopter was used to lower two firemen down alongside RYHERD who was then hoisted out by stretcher. Authorities said he was taken first to Davenport's Mercy Hospital and transferred to the Franciscan Hospital burn center in nearby Rock Island, Ill., for treatment of serious burns.
The rescue operation took almost two hours from the time the guard heard the cries until RYHERD was pulled out of the silo.
One report indicated that RYHERD'S wife had notified relatives that he was given up for dead and that she had last rights administered for him while he was missing.
Authorities said RYHERD and LEON ROBINSON, Rock Island, were apparently standing near railroad cars along the Mississippi River at the complex. It was originally thought the two had been blown into the river by the impact of the blast and scuba divers were dispatched to search the waters.
Early reports Saturday indicated ROBINSON was still missing. RYHERD reportedly told his rescuers, "LEON is up here but he can't talk."
However, the rescuers could not find the missing man.
The explosion blew off the top of a large elevator at the site and destroyed several grain silos. Huge chunks of concrete were tossed by the explosion with some debris sinking a barge tied up alongside the complex
Critically injured and hospitalized in the University Hospitals burn center at Iowa City were MILBERT WESTBROOK, 27, Davenport; WILLIAM KRATZER, 43, Rock Island and LARRY FRAZEE, 31, Eldridge. RICHARD SMOCK, 42, Rock Island, was hospitalized in Davenport in critical condition with burns.
Listed in satisfactory condition in Davenport hospitals were FLOYD CALDWELL, 28, and ROBERT CONNORS, 18, both of Davenport.
The cause of the blast had not been officially established early Saturday, but it was speculated it was a "grain dust explosion."
"What triggered it we don't know and probably won't know until we can talk to some of the people who survived the blast," said District Fire Chief Laverne Griffin.
Firemen throughout the afternoon poured water on the blast area to prevent another explosion. Investigators said it was fortunate the blast occurred during the lunch hour when most employes were not in the plant.
Cedar Rapids Gazette Iowa 1975-05-24
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!