UPDATE 2 - Corn cleanup will take 125 to 150 semis

Nearly 7 million pounds of corn covered about half of Ohio and State streets after a structural failure led to the collapse of the single metal grain bin Tuesday.
Cary Ashby
Dec 2, 2010


Nearly 7 million pounds of corn covered about half of Ohio and State streets after a structural failure led to the collapse of the single metal grain bin Tuesday.

Firefighters estimate 125 to 150 semis will be needed to transport the corn.

(NOTE - To view photos of the collapse, as well as the clean up, click on these ReflectorCam 2.0 galleries HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.)

“The corn and collapsed bin all spilled outward from the base of the bin. The debris went north across Ohio Street to the front and sides of the homes there,” Norwalk Fire Capt. Bill Knadler said in his report.

The grain bin, built between 1945 and 1948, was 55 feet tall and was about 45 feet in diameter. It held about 120,000 bushels of corn, which weighed nearly 7 million pounds or 3,500 tons.

“The corn was about 5 to 6 feet deep on Ohio Street. It also traveled across State Street into the front yards there. The depth on State Street was about 2 to 4 feet,” Knadler said.

Firefighters estimate the corn was worth slightly more than $600,000. Sunrise Cooperative’s closing market price for corn Tuesday in Clarksfield was listed at $5.20 and in Monroeville, it was priced at $5.12.

Knadler said he was told the corn had been in the bin from “a few days” to week before the collapse.

Firefighter Curt Stang, who grew up on a farm, said a lot of the corn probably will be saved.

“There’ll be some loss. They’ll have to redry some of it,” he said.

Crews from several local grain trucking companies, construction companies and equipment contractors started cleaning up the spilled corn by nightfall Tuesday and continued until about midnight. That process restarted Wednesday morning.

“Portable generators were set up to provide scene lighting. State Street was cleared first to get trucks able to go north and south from League and Main streets,” Knadler said.

“An attempt was made to get Ohio Street open, but this attempt was abandoned due to (the) lack of trucks and space to take the corn,” wrote Knadler, who estimated the street will be closed until at least Wednesday, if not longer.


What caused the collapse

Knadler said the grain bin that collapsed on the west end of the elevator property probably had a split in one of the seams near the top.

“It’s a panel-type grain bin … built in sections,” he said Wednesday. “It was a failure of the container. I’m 99 percent certain.”

Several people interviewed at the scene by the Reflector said they heard several explosions when the incident happened about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Chief Doug Coletta said those noises weren’t dust explosions as previously reported, but probably were the rings inside the bin bursting open.

“It absolutely probably sounded like an explosion,” he said. “The grain could have shifted. … It’s hard to say.”

Stang briefly explained what it takes to create a dust explosion.

“You have to have dust and an ignition source for an explosion,” he said.

In Tuesday’s incident, Coletta said “there was absolutely no smoke” and nothing burned.

“To have a dust explosion, you’ve got to have a mini fire somewhere. Because of that, it appears it was just a collapse,” he said.

The two cement silos beside the destroyed grain bin remain standing. Documentation from the auditor’s office indicates those structures were built between 1945 and 1948, but Stang said he’d heard they were built about 1909

“They were state of the art at time. The metal one was added much later,” the firefighter said.

Coletta said there used to be a railroad line that went down Ohio Street and that the railroad used to service the grain elevator facility.

“That line was abandoned in the 1970s,” the fire chief said.


The damage

The mountain of grain knocked the home at 34 State St. off its foundation. It’s no longer consider habitable.

“There were two people home at the time of the incident. They were both fine and suffered no injuries. Several homes in the immediate area of the collapse were evacuated as a precaution,” Knadler said.

The utility pole feeding the elevator complex was pushed over and partially buried. Ohio Edison workers were called to start electrical repairs.

The corn pushed over the fire hydrant at the intersection of Ohio and State streets. Shortly after the collapse, there was running water on both sides of State Street until the League Street intersection.

There was deep water in the front yard of 35 State St. late Tuesday afternoon.

“Norwalk street department crews were called in to find and shut off the valves to stop the water. The gas line/meter at 34 State (St.) was broken and natural gas was leaking. Columbia Gas was notified to get this turned off,” Knadler said.

Three cars belonging to State Street residents that “were buried by the corn had to be moved to find the gas shut-off,” he said.

Two full-size pick-up trucks on State Street “were carried by the corn down the driveway, causing one truck to be pushed across the roadway to the west side of State Street,” Norwalk Police Officer Larry Noftz wrote in his report. “Other property damage was sustained to some nearby properties.”

The grain dryer to the south of State Street and east of Ohio Street is leaning because of the collapse of the bin. Grain dyers use natural gas or propane to reduce the moisture content of the grain for proper storage.

“It got pushed over a little bit,” Coletta said.

“The grain dryer was off,” Knadler said later. “(The corn) gets dried in the dryer and gets transported to the grain bin using those tubes.”