NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. (AP) — As the number of people reporting injuries from deadly explosions at a cosmetics factory jumped to more than 125, investigators on Tuesday tried to determine what caused the blasts at a plant with a checkered history that includes fines for safety violations earlier this year and a fatal workplace shooting 12 years ago.
Orange County fire investigators were looking for clues to what touched off two explosions about 25 minutes apart Monday morning at Verla International in New Windsor, 55 miles (88 kilometers) north of New York City. Some of the cosmetics manufacturer’s approximately 250 employees lined up outside the fire-damaged plant to pick up personal belongings left behind when they scrambled to get out after the first blast erupted around 10:15 a.m.
Firefighters from nearby Newburgh responded, and several were inside the facility when the second explosion ripped through part of the complex. Officials initially said up to 35 people were injured, including seven firefighters, and one person was unaccounted for.
Kate Dabroski, a spokeswoman for St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, said Tuesday that the number of people treated increased substantially later Monday, with more than 125 people reporting injuries. Most were treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released.
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Also on Tuesday officials identified the deceased worker as William Huntington, 57, of Newburgh. Firefighters found his body inside the building about nine hours after the explosions, police said.
“Bill was a valued employee and we at Verla are sorry to his friends and his family for their loss,” the company said.
A co-worker, Juan Pablo Marcos, told The Associated Press that Huntington had gone back inside after the first explosion to make sure everyone had gotten out safely. Huntington was still inside when the second blast occurred, Marcos said.
“That guy is like a hero,” said Marcos, employed in the shipping department for about a month. “He entered again to make sure no more ladies were in the building.”
The explosions sent thick black smoke spewing into the air while flames shot out of the damaged section of the factory’s roof. More than 100 firefighters from across the county and from neighboring counties fought the blaze, and authorities said their efforts continued until just after midnight Monday.
Police kept non-employees away from the factory Tuesday while utility crews worked on the property.
The 37-year-old company’s website says it manufactures and packages nail polish, cosmetics, personal care, lotions and fragrances. Earlier this year, Verla was cited for nine occupational safety violations, according to records on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website. One was related to problems with the handling of flammable and combustible liquids.
The federal agency also cited inadequacies relating to respirator protection for workers and the maintenance of exit routes. The company agreed to pay $41,000 in penalties.
In late September 2005, a worker who had been fired a year earlier after being found with child pornography on his company computer entered the factory and fatally shot the office manager and wounded co-owners Mario Maffei and Robert Roth. The gunman then killed himself.
A woman answering the phone at Maffei’s Greenwich, Connecticut, home said he wasn’t available. A voice message left at a number listed for Roth wasn’t returned.