Beta blast victim identified as Griffith man

2010-01-08T14:00:00Z Beta blast victim identified as Griffith manBy Bowdeya Tweh -, (219) 933-3316

Editor's note: We orginally reported the deceased was from Hammond due to erroneous information. The Times regrets the error.

The Porter County coroner has identified the man who died Thursday night at an explosion at Beta Steel Corp. in Portage as Michael Kies, 35, of Griffith.

Coroner Vicki Deppe said an autospy Friday morning in Valparaiso showed he died of blunt force trauma to the head.

State investigators and company and union officials are working Friday to determine the cause of an explosion that rocked Beta Steel Corp. in Portage and left one man dead and four injured.

Jeffry Carter, deputy commissioner of the Indiana Department of Labor and head of the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Friday he believed that there's no longer any injury victims who are critical condition.

Joseph Gazarkiewicz, director of human resources and spokesman for Beta Steel, said in a statement that about 7:15 p.m. in the company's melt shop, there was an eruption of steel at the electric arc furnace. The eruption resulted in the death of a Beta Steel employee and four employees sustaining non-life threatening injuries. The four injured were taken to local hospitals for treatment.

Gazarkiewicz said no further information was available Friday morning.

The workers, three millwrights and two supervisors, were investigating a water leak in the furnace when the explosion occurred, said Kensey Alsman, president of International Longshoremen's Association 2038, which represents the nearly 250 unionized workers at the plant.

"Water got into the furnace and somehow got under the molten steel and caused the explosion," Alsman said. "Anytime you have water around hot molten steel, that's always dangerous."

Carter said the union and the company were being very helpful in the investigation and he added that the company has a good safety program.

He said investigators believe that the original reports of a steam explosion at the facility were correct.

Carter said water probably got between the steel and slag inside the electric arc furnace. This caused the water to become superheated and blow out the opening of the furnace.

The furnace is not destroyed, he said.

How the water got in the furnace remains under investigation.

"Think about taking a metal can of pop and putting it on a stove," Carter said. "It will begin to boil and the pressure's gotta go someplace."

Carter said the steel industry has made great strides in improving safety measures at facilities from times of the past. But when there is a fatal accident "it really is discouraging and frightening."

A final report on the investigation may not be ready for a couple of months, Carter added.

Times Staff Writers Ken Kosky and Susan Erler contributed to this report.


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