A major explosion and fire rocked a Sartell paper mill Monday morning at 11:42 a.m., killing one employee and injuring five others.
"Our hearts go out to one of our team members today," said Matt Archambeau, Verso plant manager. "Very sad for Verso and the Verso family."
FOX 9 News confirmed that three of the injured were treated and released from St. Cloud Hospital. One was still in the emergency room by Monday afternoon.
None of the injured victims' identities have been released.
The plant employs about 260 people, and the company had a full staff of about 50 workers inside at the time of the explosion despite the Memorial Day holiday. City leaders say the mill is the lifeblood of the local economy, and the loss of life is a real blow to the small community north of St. Cloud.
Thick black smoke was seen pouring out of the middle of Verso paper mill, and flames were seen coming through the roof at 100 East Sartell Street after an air compressor apparently exploded; however, an exact cause won't be found until after the blaze is extinguished.
"All we know is: We had a significant event in the facility -- cause still very much unknown," said Archambeau.
FOX 9 News has learned that the initial explosion apparently damaged Verso's state-of-the-art sprinkler system, which means firefighters had to provide most of the water.
A Verso employee who was in the mill at the time of explosion told FOX 9 News the explosion was so powerful it knocked workers off their feet.
Workers have since been evacuated and power to the 100-year-old building has been cut off.
A neighbor who lived nearby told FOX 9 News the walls in her house were rattled by the blast, and she was amazed her windows didn't break.
Sartell, Sauk Rapids and other area fire departments were called to the scene. The Minnesota State Patrol also sent their chopper to douse the fire from overhead.
Officials said the fire was 90 percent contained at 7 p.m., but the flames caused the building to become structurally unstable.
"We've made substantial progress, but the challenge we have is: The building is unstable," said Sartell Fire Chief Ken Heim.
The mill's warehouse walls were collapsing onto reams of flammable paper stored inside, which meant crews must continue an exterior attack.
Sartell fire chief said the fire is the largest the community has ever battled. He expected crews would remain on the scene throughout the night.
The American Red Cross is providing food and water to an estimated 230 firefighters -- as well as some paper mill employees.
Donations to help those affected by the disaster can be made online, by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, or by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.