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CAMBRIA - Rescue crews are scouring the rubble of a corn mill plant for two employees following an explosion that killed at least one person and injured about a dozen others in southern Wisconsin, authorities said on June 1.

Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said during a news conference that 16 employees were working at the time of the blast at the Didion Milling Plant in Cambria, a small community about 45 miles northeast of Madison.

The plant processes corn for ethanol and other industrial uses.

Some concrete storage silos at the plant are damaged but remained standing.

Dozens of area police, fire and rescue agencies - including medical flight crews - responded after the explosion was reported around 11 p.m., May 31 at the facility.

Richards said one person was killed and two people were still missing as of Thursday morning. Authorities said about a dozen people were injured in the blast, though no details about the injuries have been released.

By 4 p.m., Thursday, officials corrected the number of people involved in the blast. 

Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said early Thursday that 16 employees were inside the plant in the Village of Cambria when it blew up. Village officials said later Thursday afternoon 17 employees were inside. They revised that number back to 16.

One person has been confirmed killed in the explosion. Two others were still missing Thursday afternoon as searchers continue to comb the rubble looking for them.

Thirteen employees were hurt. Two were treated at the scene. Eleven were taken to area hospitals, including facilities in Portage and Beaver Dam as well as the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

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Divine Savior Hospital spokeswoman Haley Gilman says the hospital in nearby Portage received six people injured in the explosion. She says one was transferred to the burn unit at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, one was admitted to the intensive care unit and four were treated and released.

University of Wisconsin Hospital spokeswoman Emily Kumlien says five people were air-lifted to her facility. She says four are in the hospital's burn center, while the fifth is in the hospital's trauma and life support center. She declined to release further details.

A spokesperson for Beaver Dam Community Hospital told WISC News 3 out of Madison that people injured in the explosion were being treated at the Beaver Dam Hospital, but would not comment on how many people or extent of injuries. 

Didion Milling President Riley Didion told News 3 that he does not know what caused the explosion, but he asked for prayers.

Vigil planned

Community members in a southern Wisconsin village will hold an evening vigil to mourn the loss of life and injuries from a corn mill explosion.

The village of Cambria said in a June 1 news release that people plan to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 1, at the First Presbyterian Church to pray for victims of the explosion and fire at the Didion Milling Plant.

The church has become a gathering spot for family members of the victims and volunteers. The release notes that Pastor Kristin Frederich will speak before the vigil about how people can help. A benefit fund has been established.

OSHA records

The plant was cited in January 2011 for exposing its workers to dust explosion hazards, according to records from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The records state that plant filters lacked an explosion protective system.

The agency ordered the mill to correct the problem by April 2011. The records show Didion paid a $3,465 fine and the case was closed in September 2013. OSHA hasn't cited the plant for anything since, the records show. The plant processes corn for ethanol and other uses.

Emails sent to several company officials Thursday and a voicemail left for Vice President of Sales Jeff Dillon weren't immediately returned. A note posted on the company's website said the company would be closed until further notice.

Cambria Village President Glen Williams said the fire was contained by early Thursday, but he said the building was destroyed. Williams said there were no evacuations in the area.

Columbia County dispatch told News 3 that families should to to the Columbia County Highway Shop to learn more about relatives who might have been injured in the explosion. 

The American Red Cross has crews out to try and help families after the incident, News 3 reported. 

The explosion resulted in traffic on Highway 146 being closed in both directs and power outages, according to News 3. Power was restored a couple of hours after the explosion.

Schools in the Cambria-Friesland district closed June 1 because of the incident in Cambria, a village of about 770 residents. District officials later said school would reopen on Friday, June 2. 

Superintendent Timothy Raymond says early childhood through 12th grade is housed in one building about an eighth of a mile from the plant. He says the district decided to shut down Thursday as a precaution in case the fire wasn't completely extinguished.

The school district is evaluating whether to hold high school graduation on Friday, June 2, as planned or if it will be moved to another location. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
 

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