Three workers are dead and nine injured in a devastating explosion and fire at Rouse Polymerics International Inc.'s rubber recycling facility in Vicksburg.
An explosion in or near the packaging area of the plant around 6 p.m. May 16 ignited the blaze, the company said. Hot spots burned at the site until the evening of May 20, when the fire finally was extinguished, according to Deputy Chief Rose Shaifer of the Vicksburg Fire Department.
The building was destroyed. No dollar estimates of the damage were given in a statement by CEO Michael Rouse.
Because of the continuing blaze, fire investigators couldn't enter the gutted plant until May 20. The current thinking is that a rubber dryer in the facility flashed and caused the explosion, although ``that's not nailed down,'' said Capt. Mark Ettinger of the Vicksburg Fire Department. The company said it expects a state fire marshal's report at any time.
Ettinger said local hospitals reported treating as many as 18 Rouse Polymerics workers, but the company reported only 12, including one who was treated and released.
Clyde ``Teddy'' Smith, 40, died in the early hours of May 17 at University Medical Center in Jackson, Miss. Tywayne Croskey, 25, died May 21, and Alfred Harrison, 42, the following day.
Of the other eight seriously injured Rouse employees, some were taken in critical condition to the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center in Greenville, Miss., and others were in the Critical Care Unit at River Region Medical Center in Vicksburg. Since then, one has been released and another may soon be, according to Rouse.
``We simply do not have all of the answers and may not have the complete picture for some time,'' Rouse said. The company is cooperating with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in the investigation, he said.
``We will work diligently to ensure the safety of our employees and do everything possible to prevent a similar accident from ever happening again,'' he said.
In a phone interview after issuing the statement, Rouse said authorities had ruled out an explosion in the plant's fine-grind technology area.
Rouse also praised the kindness of residents of Vicksburg and Greenville who offered food, money and other services to the families of the dead and injured men. ``United Way, the banks, the churches, even the casinos have helped,'' he said.
Rouse Polymerics has identified two possible sites for relocation in Vicksburg, and anticipates being back in operation within six months, according to Rouse.
One of the most successful companies in the rubber recycling industry, Rouse Polymerics is well known for its state-of-the-art research and development activities. It specializes in elastomeric and plastic powders, asphalt roofing and pavement modifiers, and specialty polymer blends.
Early in 2001, expansion-minded, Phoenix-based recycler LandStar Inc. made a bid to acquire Rouse Polymerics and two associated firms, with Michael Rouse to become vice president of research and technology at LandStar. The deal, however, had become dormant by the fall of 2001.
Rouse Polymerics and LandStar are the only two crumb rubber producers in the country that make the ultra-fine-mesh crumb used in tire manufacturing, according to Michael Blumenthal, senior technical adviser to the Environmental and Resource Recovery Department at the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
``This truly is unfortunate,'' Blumenthal said. ``Mike Rouse has put a lot into that operation, in both money and research.''
Blumenthal said the incident will have an impact in the ultra-fine-mesh market and probably the retread industry, since Rouse takes in materials from Bandag Inc.
``But it won't have an impact on scrap tires, since Rouse doesn't take whole tires, but industrial scrap and some non-tire rubber,'' he said.