Seven workers are killed in a Moses Lake sugar beet factory blast on September 25, 1963.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 11/02/2007
  • Essay 8351
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On September 25, 1963, an explosion rips through the Utah-Idaho Sugar Co. factory, killing seven workers and injuring seven more. Parts of the factory are reduced to rubble.

The factory was built in 1953 and was the largest sugar-beet processing factory in the U.S. The explosion took place in one of six storage silos and was apparently caused by combustion of “sugar dust,” which can be volatile under some conditions.

Explosions then shook the other five silos, heavily damaging the entire plant. One worker was quoted as saying that the 108-foot tall silo next to him was blown straight up into the air, and the dust “mushroomed up” as if from a bomb. Chunks of concrete were blown 100 yards. Smaller explosions could be heard for three hours.

Cranes and rescue workers worked feverishly to rescue victims from the rubble. Two priests were part of the rescue parties in case their services were needed. Damage to the plant was estimated at $5 million, but the factory was repaired and continued to operate until it was shut down in 1979 when the sugar beet industry declined.

Killed in the explosion were:

Abel, Leonard D. (1914-1963), age 48
Cain, James Ivan, (1911-1963), age 51
Henry, John F. (1916-1963) age 47
Hodson, Donald W. (1913-1963), age 50
Hain, Juan Roland, (1924-1963), age 39
Lapp, Albert (1914-1963), age 49
Yessak, Donald William (1930-1963), age 33


Raymond E. Mitchell, “4 Killed, 3 Missing in Blast,” Spokesman-Review, September 26, 1963; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “U&I Sugar Company Dedicates Moses Lake Plant on Oct., 23, 1953 (by Elizabeth Gibson, (accessed Oct. 27, 2007).

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