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Texas blast reminiscent of 2003 Kinston explosion

Posted April 18, 2013

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— Wednesday night's fertilizer plant explosion in a Texas farm town triggered haunting memories for people in Kinston, where, more than 10 years ago, West Pharmaceutical plant erupted in a fireball when combustible dust ignited.

Six people were killed and 40 were injured in the Jan. 29, 2003, blast, which hurled debris up to 2 miles away. The rubble smoldered for days.

Kinston Public Safety Director Bill Johnson was a firefighter at the time.

"I knew something significant had happened," he said Thursday.

How significant, however, wouldn't be felt until later. It was unlike anything he'd ever seen.

"People say your training automatically takes over, and for us, it did," he said. (Wednesday night's explosion) reminded me a lot of that day."

In the decade since the Kinston blast, local agencies have improved radio communications and are more familiar with commercial buildings.

"Now we do a lot of research. We talk to our companies that are here, and they talk to us," Johnson said. "They let us know what type of chemicals they have and what their quantities are."

The state fined West Pharmaceutical $400,000, citing deficiencies in plant design, electrical systems and employee training.

It has since rebuilt and expanded to more than 300 employees.

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