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State

Police: Mortar round caused deadly plant blast

GRANITE CITY – A mortar round went off at the Totall Metal Recycling plant on Monday morning, killing two people and injuring one, police said.

Chief Rich Miller of the Granite City Police Department said the two bodies have been removed and the injured worker is at a St. Louis hospital. Police would not provide the condition or the nature of the man’s injury.

It was unclear where the mortar came from. It exploded in an outdoor area at the plant.

During a news conference down the road from the plant, Miller said police are not treating the explosion as a criminal investigation. He described it as an industrial accident.

The company’s website says the plant employs more than 160 people in six departments. It remained closed for the remainder of the day.

“Nobody in the general area is in danger,” Miller said. “Everybody is safe here.”

Monday afternoon, the company released a statement saying it was cooperating with authorities.

“This is an extremely difficult day for our entire Totall Metal Recycling family following the loss of two of our friends and colleagues this morning,” the statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families as we collectively cope with this tragedy.”

A spokeswoman representing Totall said the company has been in business since 1994.

An Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit truck from Scott Air Force Base was on the scene. A police bomb squad went into the property before 10 a.m.

Relatives began showing up outside the plant but were kept back by police officers.

Miguel Romo, 41, of Fairmount City, is a maintenance worker at the plant. Romo has worked there 15 years. He said he was inside a maintenance building when heard an explosion about 6:30 a.m. Monday. Everyone was ordered off the grounds, he said.

Romo said his brother, Rudolfo Romo, 46, died in the blast. He said Monday afternoon that he still had not heard from authorities about what happened.

Miguel Romo said his brother works at Totall Metal as a supervisor and has been with the company 15 years. He said his brother also was a Fairmont City trustee.

Ryan Cerentano, 29, of Affton, was standing on Missouri Avenue, down the road from the plant. He had been fired from the plant in May. He showed up Monday morning, yelling at the company from behind the police lines, and police told him to calm down. He said one of those killed was his half brother, Tyler Muenstermann, 24, of Edwardsville.

Cerentano said his half brother had worked at the company for about 18 months and was a McKendree University graduate and football player.

“He was the best of all of us,” Cerentano said. “It’s far more than I can fathom right now, and I’m having a real hard time dealing with it.”

Cerentano claimed conditions at the company were not safe. “There’s a lot of unsafe stuff there,” he said.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration sent an investigator to the scene. Aaron Priddy, area director in OSHA’s Fairview Heights area office, said the investigator is a compliance officer who is coordinating efforts with the fire chief and ATF agent.

OSHA has cited Totall Metal’s facility in Granite City for serious violations in 2011 and 2012 for violations of lead and respiratory protections, Priddy said.

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