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3,500 Workers Sent Home After Packing Plant Explosion

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TAR HEEL — A hog slaughterhouse in Bladen County, one of the largest in the country, experienced something other than business as usual Monday. An early morning explosion shook the building and sent hundreds of workers scattering.

A hydraulic line burst Monday morning at the Smithfield Packing Company, which is part of Carolina Food Processors. The small blast happened during a break, so only a few people were injured, none of them seriously.

The Tar Heel plant usually runs around the clock, but at 8:30 Monday morning, the explosion brought operations to a halt. Of the 4,500 employees at the plant, 3,200 were sent home so that crews could clean up and repair the plant.

First shift workers say they heard and felt the blast when a 10-inch pipe succumbed to pressure within and ruptured in an area near the back of the building.

"It sounded like an explosion," said one worker. "It was like a loud rumble."

The plant manager says a pump system carrying hog waste from the plant broke down. That caused the waste line to rupture. Emergency workers say the blast was fairly strong, leaving a 15-inch hole around the ruptured pipe.

"When I saw the damage I really thought we were going to have serious injuries," said Chief Mike Smith of the Tobermory Fire Department. "I'm really surprised that the injuries were very minor."

Two maintenance workers and one jack driver were among those injured. Their injuries were considered minor.

Smithfield Packing says the company has a strong safety record in Tar Heel. Employee Donald Worley says, despite Monday's accident, he feels safe at work.

"It's not an unsafe environment," says Worley. "I've been here six years and I've never seen anything unsafe about it."

The plant is expected to open with a regular schedule Tuesday. As a result of the accident, OSHA investigators were called, but officials say it was a courtesy call. Because the accident was relatively minor, there does not have to be an OSHA inspection.

Workers were sent home after fire officials arrived. They wanted the area cleared for inspection and repair purposes.

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Melissa Buscher, Reporter
Michael Joyner, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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