Photo courtesy Kimm Anderson/St. Cloud Times
SARTELL, Minn. -- One person is dead and five others have been injured in the explosion and fire at the Verso paper mill in Sartell Monday.
The information was confirmed by the the Sartell city administrator Patti Gartland this afternoon during a news conference.
The five injured victims have been transported to area hospitals to be treated. The conditions of their injuries are unknown at this time.
The identity of the deceased victim will not be released until family has been notified.
As of 4 p.m., the fire was 90 percent contained. The fire department is assessing the area and some assisting fire departments have been released.
Eight central Minnesota fire departments were on the scene of the explosion and major fire at the paper mill.
Neighbors reported hearing a loud booming noise just before 11:45 a.m., heavy black smoke was seen pouring out of the center part of the mill and flames were visible leaping on the roof.
There was a full shift working today when an air compressor exploded, according Pat Gibney, an official with Verso Paper.
Jim McDermott, Benton County's emergency manager, called the incident "a major explosion." The fire is in an area of wood products and officials are not worried about chemicals.
There have been some injuries but McDermott did not have the severity or number of injuries. One firefighter was treated for a heat-related condition.
Smoldering paper bales are the source of much of the black smoke that fills the air. Residents are being asked to stay inside with their windows shut so they don't inhale the smoke.
An unnamed official on the scene did tell KARE 11 that there are concerns that there was asbestos in the ceiling over the area that exploded.
Two patients have been taken to St. Cloud Hospital and they are being treated in the emergency room, said Jeanine Nistler, communications director for CentraCare Health Systems.
Employees have gathered in a parking lot across from the mill.
The neighborhood is not being evacuated.
The fire appears to be in a smaller building adjacent to the main mill building. Witnesses say debris is everywhere and smoke can be seen for miles. A neighbor of the mill called and told KARE 11 that the air is thick with paper fragments.
Dan McClure, who lives near the plant, was mowing his grass when he heard a sound that sounded like thunder. He says the smoke is still black and fairly thick, but as of 1:30 p.m. it appeared to be thinning out a bit.
Matt Dahl, who lives on Third Street Northeast, said there was one huge explosion that shook his whole house. He ran outside and saw black smoke and flames.
Sartell, Sauk Rapids and other area fire departments have been called to the scene.
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