Crews trying to stabilize Roy silo; missing worker believed dead

Staff writerDecember 3, 2013 

As crews continue planning how to stabilize three silos at a feed mill in Roy where a worker is likely buried beneath five tons of corn, a fire chief said their efforts have turned from rescue to recovery.

Family members of the missing worker gathered at Wilcox Farm’s mill on McNaught Road South this morning, comforting one another and waiting for news. The worker has not been identified.

Brent Wilcox, one of the business' owners, said the company is deeply saddened by the loss of an employee.

"We’re a family company," he said. "We treat all our employees like family members."

The accident happened about 3:10 p.m. Monday. Firefighters at the station across the street said they heard a loud crash. A silo containing five tons of corn -- or 100,000 pounds -- collapsed in on itself, spilling grain out of the bottom.

The silo struck two nearby silos as it fell, damaging one and knocking another containing peas sideways into the metal office building. The partially collapsed silo pushed about 15 feet into the office, bending structural beams and breaking water lines, South Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Bob Vellias said.

The missing worker and the manager were working outside the silo when its support system gave way. The manager ran west and escaped safely. The missing worker ran east and could not be located after the incident.

Officials used two search dogs Monday night to try and pinpoint where the worker might be buried, but the attempt was quickly called off.

"It was almost like putting them in quicksand," Vellias said. "We didn’t want to lose the dogs."

Two structural engineers have devised a plan to stabilize the structures long enough for a technical-rescue team to recover the worker’s body. They are bringing in two cranes. One lowered workers next to the silo so they could survey the damage up close. The other will hold the silos in place while crews use large vacuums used to clean storm drains to suck out the grain.

A firefighter used a truck ladder to hover above the damaged silos and take pictures.

"It’s going to take a lot of work to stabilize the silos," Vellias said. "It’s not just one issue, it’s many."

He said there is a possibility the recovery effort, which includes about 50 people from 20 agencies, will extend into Wednesday.

It's unclear what caused the building collapse. A state Labor & Industries team will remain on scene to investigate once the silos are stabilized and the missing worker is recovered.

Wilcox Farms is a fourth-generation family farm that started in 1909.

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