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1 still missing Sunday in Waukegan plant explosion

The explosion Friday evening was powerful enough to be heard by residents across Lake County. Only the warped skeleton of the plant remains. Metal and foam debris coat an area the size of a football field, with some spongy pieces of insulation making it as far as across the nearby four-lane road. | Jane Recker / Sun-Times photo

Two bodies have been recovered from the ruins of Waukegan’s AB Specialty Silicones plant since Friday evening’s massive explosion.

Of the nine people who were in the building when the fire broke out, three were reported missing at the time of the incident. One was found and recovered Saturday morning, one was discovered Sunday afternoon and is being recovered, and the third is still missing, Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper said.

A fourth victim, 29-year-old Allen Stevens, was removed from the initial scene in an ambulance Friday night and not counted among the missing. He died in Maywood’s Loyola Medical Center burn unit Saturday.

The Waukegan Fire Department said as of 7 p.m. Sunday, the third missing person had not been found. The search will start again at 7 a.m. Monday morning.

Cooper hopes to have the two recovered bodies identified by Monday. The body recovered Saturday will require officials to use dental records, and the body found Sunday likely will as well, he said.

Cooper said rescue teams are working tirelessly to recover the final missing victim but that they have to ensure their own safety during the search efforts. He said the building is currently unstable, and recovery teams presently have to work under the entire building in their excavation efforts.

Dogs have been used to help with the search, but Waukegan Fire Marshal Steven Lenzi said the chemicals and heavy fire involved with the explosion can throw the dogs off their scent.

The exact cause of the explosion is still undetermined, Lenzi said, but officials have ruled out foul play and are officially declaring the incident an accident. Lenzi said plant personnel have been extremely compliant and helpful in assisting with the investigation, but, due to the precarious state of the building, the team has only been able to investigate half of the structure.

OSHA and the state fire marshal will continue to investigate what Lenzi describes as an “active, ongoing scene,” and a federal chemical safety specialist will be arriving soon.

Victim Allen Stevens’ Salem, Wisconsin, neighbor, John Stanaway, remembered Stevens as a “good guy” who was a considerate neighbor that looked out for others.

“I wasn’t real close to him, but he’d help me,” Stanaway said. “I got neck surgery, and there were times I’d come home and [without asking him] the whole driveway would be shoveled. Who’s gonna come and shovel snow for another guy?”