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Explosions at Fireworks Plant Kill 21

From Associated Press

A series of explosions felt 13 miles away ripped apart a fireworks plant today, killing at least 21 people, authorities said.

Five people suffering from burns were taken to area hospitals, and two people were missing.

Authorities were checking reports that the plant had not received a license to operate for 1985 and that some people under the age of 18 were working there illegally.

The Pawnee County Sheriff’s Department said it had confirmed 21 deaths and feared more victims would be found by rescue workers. Twenty-eight people were believed to be in the Aerlex Corp. plant at the time of the blasts, state police said.

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Explosions Lifted House

Carl Ames Jr., who lives three miles from the plant, said there were three distinct explosions. “They lifted our house,” he said.

“They were real rapid and big. The birds quit singing, the cattle and horses all started running.”

The blasts rattled windows in Cleveland, 13 miles from this tiny northern Oklahoma town, producing a “giant mushroom cloud” over the site, said Don Cochran, Cleveland fire chief.

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The manufacture of fireworks is legal in Oklahoma.

Plant Leveled

A witness said the plant, which covered about 10 acres, was leveled.

“There’s body bags everywhere. It’s just a pile of rubble. No metal, no framework. There’s nothing left,” said Cindy Jennings, a reporter for a Tulsa radio station.

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Mayor Jeff Fountain was one of the injured who survived the explosion, said Jennie Harrison, who works at a convenience store in Hallett.

“He was burned all over,” she said. “They found him wandering down a road near the plant. We put some water on him and called the hospital and they told us to put ice on him, so we did.”

Luana Brandinger, a Hallett grocery store employee, said the blasts blew her sister from the front steps of her mobile home.

“She lives about a mile away and she was standing outside when the plant exploded,” Brandinger said. “It blew her down to the ground.”

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Third Fatal Blast

It was the third fatal explosion this year at a fireworks facility.

A blast May 20 ripped apart a fireworks storage shed in Youngstown, Ohio, killing nine people and blowing a huge crater in the ground. Two days later, police arrested four men in connection with the blast at the illegal fireworks factory, charging them with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter and illegal manufacturing of fireworks.

On Jan. 15, an explosion at Union Imports Manufacturing Inc., a Cambridge, Ohio, manufacturing plant, killed one woman and injured three other people.

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