2 killed, several injured in central Wisconsin plant explosion

14 employees injured in accident, 1 missing
Posted at 5:14 AM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-01 23:56:31-04

Authorities confirmed two people are now dead after an explosion at Didion Milling in Cambria late Wednesday night.

Emergency crews are continuing a search and rescue operation for one person still missing, however, officials said parts of the mill are still too dangerous to get too. Overnight cranes are moving debris piece by piece.

The Columbia County Sheriff said the explosion impacted several communities. 

"This thing was felt many many miles from the village of Cambria," said Sheriff Dennis Richards.

Almost everyone in town knows someone who was there Wednesday. Kay Wardlow has hope her friend will be found alive.

"It's overwhelming. It's like I couldn't believe I actually knew somebody who was actually missing," she said.

At this time officials aren't releasing the names of the victims, but this community is grieving two of their own.

"He was 20 years old and it's sad to see someone that young wind up losing their life just switching shifts and trying to do their job," said Justin Stoltz.

Many people came out for a prayer service Thursday.

"They're broken hearted and they're shattered, but I know that this generous open hearted community will walk with them every step of the way," said Pastor Kristin Frederich of First Presbyterian Church

Cambria Fire Chief Cody Doucette said there was a fire at the facility Monday in a different part of the building. Investigators are working to determine if it’s related as they search for the cause of Wednesday's explosion.

"When you pull up to a scene like that that's something you never expect to see and I hope to God that I never have to see it again in my life and I hope no one else does," Doucette said.

There is no word yet on the condition of the 12 people taken to area hospitals. 

The injured workers were taken to hospitals in Beaver Dam and Madison.

The American Red Cross was called in around 1:00 a.m. to assist the families impacted.

"We have our emotional support teams, they're actually mental health professionals, meeting the families at the various hospitals," said Barbara Behling, of the American Red Cross.

"This community will rally together," she added.

The explosion happened at the Didion Milling plant on Highway 164. The facility processes corn and corn by-products.


The building that exploded was a three to four-story lab, according to the Village President.

"It sounded like a bomb going off," said Rodney Ashcraft, who lives across from the facility.

Ashcraft said he, his wife, and his four kids all felt the impact of the explosion inside their home.

"I'm in awe that we still have windows," Ashcraft said.

Company officials are asking Cambria's tight-knit residents to hang tough.

"I ask on behalf of our company, on behalf of all of our team that's going through this, for your prayers, your support, and for respect for the families that are going through some tough and challenging times right now," said Riley Didion, President of Didion Milling.

Schools in the area are closed on Thursday.

The American Red Cross said people who want to help should give blood, as blood supply at local hospitals is likely depleted after treating the victims of the explosion.

A disaster relief center has been set up at 121 W. Florence St. in Cambria.

"The Red Cross will be providing Disaster Specialist staff on site for people to talk to," the Sheriff said in a news relief Thursday morning. "We encourage people to come out and gather."