Cause of silo collapse unknown; search for worker to resume Wednesday

Efforts to stabilize a collapsed corn silo in Roy will resume at daylight Wednesday as crews try to find the body of a worker believed crushed in the avalanche of grain.

Crane and welding crews worked Tuesday to stabilize three silos and a building at Wilcox Farm’s mill on McNaught Road South.

Welders attached brackets to the top of the damaged silo so it can be held in place by a crane, enabling workers to remove the feed and search for the missing worker, who is presumed dead.

Work was moving slowly because of the danger to workers, said Sheri Badger, spokeswoman for Pierce County Emergency Management.

Throughout the day, family members of the missing worker gathered at the mill, 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.”

Officials provided more details Tuesday of the accident, which happened about 3:10 p.m. Monday.

Firefighters at the station across the street heard a loud crash as a silo containing 100,000 pounds of corn collapsed in on itself, spilling grain out of the bottom.

The silo hit two nearby silos as it fell, damaging one and knocking another containing peas sideways into a 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 a manager were working outside the silo when its support system gave way. The manager ran west and escaped safely. The worker ran east and could not be found after the incident.

Officials used two search dogs Monday night to try to 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 devised a plan to stabilize the structures long enough for a technical-rescue team to try to recover the worker’s body.

Two cranes will be used in the effort. One lowered workers next to the silo Tuesday 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 photographs.

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

Specialized equipment, including grounded devices that minimize the hazard of explosions from the grain dust, will be used.

It’s unclear what caused the building collapse. A state Department of 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.