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Workers describe chaos in ConAgra plant

Posted June 10, 2009

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— Not long after Tuesday's explosion at ConAgra Foods plant, people who experienced the blast began sharing their stories with the media.

Employee Leonard Spruill said he heard a loud explosion and that several of his co-workers were badly burned. Spruill suffered burns on his head, arms and legs and said he had to have his clothes cut off of him.

His wife, Imogene, said her husband told her there was a fire before the explosion.

"He said the whole half of the packing side blew up. He said he was working and (heard) a loud noise – boom, like that – (and) debris was everywhere," Imogene Spruill said. "There was fire all around him, and then it just blew up."

Harold Harris, who was being treated at WakeMed, said an "overwhelming boom" knocked him down in the plant.

"It blew me, knocked me back into the wall," Harris said. "When I kind of gathered myself, the lights went out, but I could see the roof just falling all around me."

Worker Janet Bryant said she thought a bomb had gone off inside the plant.

"We just heard a loud explosion, and we looked up and the door to our department blew off and debris and everything rushed in," Bryant said. "(I am) very blessed and just praying for my co-workers."

Pecolia McLeod said her son was among the injured workers.

"He just said his head (was) burning. They just poured water on him," she said. "People got burned up, and they (were) trying to take them out of there."

Gail Ruffin, who was not injured, shared a similar story about the sounds she heard and images she saw.

"What I saw (and) heard was this boom, and the ceiling start coming down, and we all start running,"she said. "Everyone was trying to get to the exit door. ... I was just trying to get out, and then we just (saw) people that (were) burned – blood all over them."

Some relatives still hadn't been reunited with workers by Tuesday evening, officials said, and they said the center would remain open for employees and their families as long as necessary.

"I believe in God, and God knows what he's doing, and I have to pray," Joyce Tomlinson said as she waited for word from a family member who works at the ConAgra plant.

More than 240 workers who weren't seriously injured were taken by bus to the Garner Senior Center, 205 E. Garner Road, where officials checked them over for any minor injuries and where anxious family members waited.

"Everybody was completely off guard. Based on the ones I’ve talked to, there was no warning, no signs. It just happened very abruptly," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said.

Linda Williams, whose husband was unhurt in the explosion, said: "It's the last thing on your mind, thinking that it's going to happen."

ConAgra has an employee assistance program to help injured workers and their families. The company usually pays workers when a plant is shut down after an industrial accident, officials said.

ConAgra also plans to establish a fund for donations. The money will be available to employees in need. Officials said they don't know when the plant will re-open.

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