Lee Steele battled cancer for 10 years. But, in just an instant Thursday, he lost 10 members of his family.

Four sons: Larry Steele, 32, Ronald Steele, 30, Earnest Steele, 29, Miles Steele, 26.

A brother: Emmett Steele, 61.

Two brothers-in-law: Robert and James Blouir.

And three nephews: Steve Blouir, Chester Payne, 19, and Brian Taylor, 18.

All fell to their deaths Thursday morning when scaffolding inside a 170-foot power plant cooling tower under construction at Willow Island collapsed, killing a total of 51 workers.

"We was very close, me and my sons," Lee Steele, a burly man in his 60s who professes strong Christian beliefs, said in a telephone interview from his home here.

"I just trust in God.He'll never put more on me than I can bear. He gets me through the rough spots, but it's hard."

A few hours before, he had stood weeping outside a makeshift morgue set up in a volunteer fire station in nearby Belmont.

"Four boys, I lost four boys," Steele had cried.

Steele, a retired construction laborer, has met tragedy before. A brother fell to his death in a construction accident on a New Jersey bridge in 1960. Steele himself has undergone 20 weeks of radiation treatment for cancer.

Steele has four daughters and, now, one son, Robert.

Early yesterday, Robert appeared at the cemetery of the tiny, 109-year-old Baptist Church near here to arrange for the burial of four of his brothers and his uncle. Two new widows and a neighbor were with him.

Robert walked with Jim Brammer, a chemical worker and the cemetery's trustee who was puzzled over where on God's earth they would find the necessary room.

"We had to quit selling lots two years ago," said Brammer, a short, gentle man and a leader of the church.

They finally decided that the four brothers would be buried side by side, facing the fateful tower that dominates the northern horizon. Uncle Emmett's grave will be a short distance away.

Their ground is in a walkway, really, but gravesites are precious this week end at every little cemetery near Willow Island.

Robert Steele broke down, but gathered himself again and volunteered to return with a check for $680.

"The church rules call for payment before we open a grave" Brammer said. "But I told him we weren't going to worry about that. He has too many other things to take care of."

Belmont Mayor Robert Doty, who knows the Steele family and helped carry bodies of many of the victims into the morgue said Thursday. "It's terrible, Steele has suffered before. Now she [Lee Steele's mother Millie], has to bear this, too.

"People here are pretty staunch people through," Doty added. "They will survive and go on because people on this community band together."

The giant coal-fired electrical generating plant promised to be a boom or the area when construction began in the spring of 1974.

"When we saw the immensity of the project, we realized somebody might pay with their life. But no more envisioned something of this magnitude," said Doty, a shift foreman at a nearby Union Carbide plant.

A Sunday school building next to the church that the Steele family had attended had been converted into a center for grief-stricken relatives. Friends consoled each other in whispered tones amid the blackboards as Red Cross workers called out the names of victims Thursday.

Nearby, in Belmont, after four hours waiting to identify the bodies of three of his friends, Tom Roush had no more tears to shed.

He said the three friends who rode to work with him "were more like brothers."

"I know if it were me over there," he said, waving toward the temporary morgue, "they'd be sitting here. But they'd be giving me hell for being so bummed out. I've done all the crying I can get out of me. Now I'm just confused."

"Who was here asking about Edgar Phillips of Lancaster, Ohio?" asked one state trooper. He and a minister then accompanied two men as they walked past reporters to the morgue. Relatives emerging from the building carried large manila envelopes containing wallets, watches and other of the victim's belongings.

Yesterday, the company building the tower where the 51 men were killed said it has halted work on three similar projects until the accident's cause can be found. Federal safety officials said that could take weeks.

The tower was being built for a Monongahela Power Co. generating plant by Research Cottrell Inc., a Bound Brook, N.J., firm that builds environmental control structures.

Would not say where the other projects were, but in Berwick, Pa., the Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. said it had stopped construction on two cooling towers being built by Research Gottrell for a PP&I nuclear plant there.

Jones said Research Cottrell has used the same type of scaffolding at 36 similar towers over the last seven years without incident.

Dr. Eula Bingham, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is investigating, flew to Willow Island as eight OSHA inspectors poked through the wreckage.

"It's the worst accident since OSHA was formed in 1972," she said, termine what caused the scaffolding were looking at the design, the hoistings and the cement in an effort to determine what caused the scaffolding to break free, sending all 51 workmen aboard tumbling 170 feet to their deaths.

The mayors of St. Marys and nearby Belmont declared tomorrow a day of mourning, and Gov. John D. Rockefeller IV toured the disaster site with OSHA officials.

At the Green Lantern Bar, across from the construction site, Roger Buskirk, a pipefitter from Parkersburg held forth.

"There was no need for this slaughter," he said. "I say when man can't go to work and be safe, it's a terrible thing. This had to be a safety violation. It's just not supposed to happen."