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Memorial Park For Victims Of N.C. Chicken Plant Fire Dedicated

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HAMLET, N.C. — As politicians made speeches dedicating amemorial park to 25 people killed in a chicken plant fire, onesurvivor in the audience Thursday couldn't block out the memoriesof that gruesome day in 1991.

"You could hear the people screaming and hollering," said AdaBlanchard, 51.

Blanchard was working inside the Imperial Foods chickenprocessing plant when the fire broke out Sept. 3, 1991. The firebegan when a hydraulic line broke near a deep-fat fryer andfireballs blew through the brick building.

Many workers who tried to escape the smoke and flames could notget out because exits were locked or blocked. In all, 25 peopledied and 56 were injured in the fire, which occurred the day afterLabor Day.

The fire served as a catalyst for improved workplace safety lawsin North Carolina.

Blanchard sat under a green-and-white striped tent with a cottonsweater around her shoulders to ward off the breeze as she listenedto speeches from local leaders at the dedication ceremony.

She walked into the sunshine to grab a chrome-plated shovel toparticipate in the ground-breaking for the memorial park, locatedat the site of the former plant, which was torn down in 2001. Thepark will consist of 25 stepping stones to represent each personkilled.

It also has a granite slab with a plaque that includesinformation about the fire, including that 49 children wereorphaned.

Blanchard recalled the events of that day when she was workingin a room beside the ignition point. She said a dark ball of smokefollowed a bright blast of flame when the fire started in thewindowless plant. Workers ran for the exits, only to find most ofthem locked or blocked.

She tried to escape through a loading dock door blocked by adumpster.

"When the door was finally opened, somebody pulled me out,"she said.

"We were praying to get out. It was a scary experience, butspiritual. I could see Jesus' name come up from my forehead andthen the letters turned into musical notes. I said, 'Lord, I'mcommitting my life to you. I accept death,"' she said.

The park is being built as part of a $1.75 millionrevitalization project in the small town near the South Carolinaborder. The revitalization also includes low-income housing.

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