SARTELL, Minn. (WCCO) — One person is confirmed dead after a Sartell paper mill sustained an explosion and fire Monday afternoon, authorities say.

According to a dispatcher with Stearns County, a number of fire crews have responded to the scene. The explosion happened at the Verso Paper Mill. A 911 call came in at about 11:20 a.m.

As of yet, the cause of the explosion is unknown. A city administrator said that it appears the explosion deactivated the sprinkler system.

Al Lassen, who recorded the fire on video, described the situation as “mayhem.”

“Fire trucks, everything, fire: It was nothing I had quite ever seen,” he said.

When the explosion went off, a shockwave emanated from the mill, hitting people’s homes, rattling their windows.

“It just felt like somebody hit our house,” one witness said. “The windows and everything were shaking.”

The paper bails used in paper making burned well into the afternoon.

Judy Lazer, the wife of a mill worker, feared for her husband’s life.

“I’m waiting for my husband to come out of the mill,” she said. “He was on the other side of the wall…where the explosion happened.”

She says he husband is lucky to be alive.

All parts of the plant were evacuated. Officials at the plant were still trying to determine the number of people who reported for work on Monday. It wasn’t clear how many had taken the holiday off.

Four other people were injured and are in area hospitals.

One firefighter was also being treated for heat exhaustion.

As of about 5 p.m., officials said they believed the fire was 90percent contained.

The identity of the victim is being withheld until notification of the family.

The American Red Cross is on the scene, providing food and water for about 230 firefighters and some mill workers, the organization said.

Check out some WCCO Radio interviews below:
Witness Rick Reisdorf

City Administrator Patti Gartland


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