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Quad City Times June 13, 2006

Arsenal officials head to explosion

By Ed Tibbetts

Two people were missing and presumed dead Monday after an explosion at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middletown, Iowa. Two others were injured.

Officials at the plant say the blast occurred about 10:25 a.m. on Line 1, but they haven’t said what caused it. The plant is overseen by the Army’s Joint Munitions Command, which is based on Arsenal Island.

Arsenal officials, as well as other Army personnel, were on their way to the plant, said Dan Carlson, an Arsenal-based spokesman.

The ammunition plant is operated by a private company, American Ordnance LLC, a joint venture of General Dynamics Ordnance & Tactical Systems Inc. and Day and              Zimmerman Inc. Carlson said American Ordnance, based in Pittsburg, Kan., had been the operator since 1999.

Jon Phillips, a spokesman for American Ordnance, declined to answer several questions, including how the accident might affect the plant’s operations. The names of the missing and injured also have not been released.

The explosion destroyed a bay extending from the plant’s main building and damaged a wood wall near the bay’s front. The main building sustained some damage, but other adjacent bays were not affected.

Nearby residents say they heard the detonation rumble through the area, followed shortly by emergency vehicles rushing to the plant.

More than 850 people work at the plant, according to the Army, most of them for the contractor. The massive 65-year-old facility includes almost 800 buildings, sits on 19,000 acres and has storage capacity of 1.1 million square feet. It is just west of Burlington.

An investigation into the blast will be conducted by the Army Combat Readiness Center at Ft. Rucker, Ala., Carlson said.

U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, whose district includes the plant, said in a statement: “Too often, the fact is overlooked that those individuals who work on the civilian side of national defense serve their country in dangerous ways. The hearts of the community go out to those who may have lost their lives and those who have been injured today.”

It wasn’t clear what work was being done on Line 1, one of five lines. The plant loads, assembles and packs a variety of ammunition, including tank and howitzer shells. In April, it won a $15.1 million contract for 155-mm cartridges.

GlobalSecurity.org., a Web site that analyzes the military, calls it a “one-of-a-kind national resource” that provides “total munitions solutions.”

The Iowa plant is one of 19 facilities overseen by the Joint Munitions Command. Carlson said the last fatality at one of its plants also was at an American Ordnance-operated facility in Milan, Tenn.

That occurred in 2004, when two people were killed, according to the Army. Few details were available Monday night about that incident.

The Tennessee plant was given a safety award in April by the National Safety Council, according to American Ordnance’s Web site.

Carlson said he didn’t know when the last serious accident had occurred at the Iowa plant, but there was a minor incident in 2005 that caused a small fire, according to the Burlington Hawkeye newspaper.

(The Associated Press also contributed to this report)


Copyright 2006, The Quad-City Times