KINSTON, N.C. — More than a year ago, a huge explosion devastated the lives of dozens of families and destroyed the West Pharmaceutical plant in Kinston. More than 100 workers were forced to take temporary jobs out of state. Now, those workers are returning home to their old jobs at a new plant.
Durander Mumford spent most of the last year working in Nebraska. He was one of 200 people who lost their jobs in a flash when the plant exploded in January 2003. About half the workers took temporary transfers to plants in other states while West Pharmaceutical rebuilt. They spent three weeks of every month away from their families.
"It's been really great to be back home," Mumford said. "Not having my wife with me, it was really a lost place within my heart."
Millie Watkins worked in Florida while her husband and three kids stayed behind.
"It's been tough, but I'm glad to be home," she said.
Being back can be bittersweet. It reminds some of the terrible day and their co-workers who died.
"I feel like we're all friends. We're all like a family out here," Watkins said.
West Pharmaceutical has come a long way. The company just sent out its first shipment from the plant since the blast.
About 70 Kinston employees are still on the road, working at plants in other states, but the plan is to have everyone back in the Kinston area by the summer. Some employees said the time away made them stronger.
Mumford said it has made him appreciate the simple things more.
"Believe me, there is no place like home," he said.
About 100 Kinston employees were temporarily laid off after the explosion. The company plans to bring back most workers once everyone is home from Florida and Nebraska.