KINSTON, N.C. — More than a year and a half after an explosion that killed six people, West Pharmaceutical employees have a new home.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the official opening of the new Kinston plant on Thursday.
The celebration was an emotional one as survivors of the January 2003 plant explosion reunited and shared their experiences and recovery.
The company broke ground on the site in July 2003. Employees have been slowly moving back to the area and returning to work as the building was completed in phases.
"Buildings can always be rebuilt, but it is the spirit that unites families, companies and communities," Donald Morel Jr., chief executive officer of West Pharmaceutical.
Employees are celebrating their new beginning, but for some, the celebration is bittersweet.
"The sadness is knowing that you've lost six co-workers about 18 months ago. On the other hand, it's happy because we've rebuilt in Kinston," explosion survivor Jim Edwards said.
"It's a new beginning, I guess," survivor Donald Jernigan said.
Jernigan made it out safely, but six of his co-workers died that day.
"[I] knew them all. I helped get some out of the building," he said.
The company makes rubber medical fittings. The explosion happened in a section of the plant that compounded synthetic rubber.
Federal safety investigators still don't know what sparked the explosion, but they say dust in a false ceiling helped fuel it.
The new facility is located about six miles away from the previous site. Managers expect the new plant to be at full speed by the end of this year.