Local News

Garner remembers ConAgra workers

Posted June 16, 2009 5:41 a.m. EDT
Updated June 16, 2009 6:31 p.m. EDT

— Town officials held a moment of silence Tuesday morning to mark the one-week anniversary of a fatal explosion at a Garner food plant.

Comparing the explosion at the ConAgra Foods plant to President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Mayor Ronnie Williams said he would always remember where he was when the explosion rocked the plant on Jones Sausage Road, killing three and injuring dozens more.

"We will continue to grieve for what has happened," Williams said. "With that grief comes the healing process. That healing process will not happen quickly."

Williams called for a moment of silence at 11:27 a.m. – the time when the explosion was first reported on June 9 – and a bell tolled three times in honor of the three people killed.

ConAgra plant manager Mark Rauenzahn said the company also was marking the one-week anniversary by asking employees at all of its plants to stop work at 11:25 a.m. EDT and shut off their equipment to .

"Remember them in a way that suits your memories. Remember them in a way that brings joy to your hearts," Rauenzahn said. "Remember them as the community again bonds together as we go through the next few weeks."

Investigators have determined that a natural gas leak caused the explosion, which blew out a wall of the 425,000-square-foot plant and punched holes in the roof.

Four of the injured workers remain in critical condition in the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. One other worker was in fair condition Tuesday at the burn center, and another was in good condition.

"As tragic as this is, there's always a light, if you look hard enough, at the end of the tunnel," Garner Fire Chief Phil Mitchell said. "The light here is employees helping employees ... (and) emergency services came together."

ConAgra Foods asked about 50 employees to return to work Tuesday to help clean up the north end of the plant, which makes and packages Slim Jim beef jerky products. The south end is too damaged for workers to enter.

Company spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said officials understand returning to work might be difficult for some workers. Most of the 50 did return to the plant – some for the first time since the blast.

"There are some that are definitely willing to come back. There are others who have expressed it's just not the right time – they need a little more time," Childs said.

Counselors were to be on hand throughout the day, Childs said. The company also plans to provide counseling to employees who weren't able to return to work Tuesday, she said.

"It could have been me because I got off that morning," ConAgra employee Diane Richardson said. "I walked down that sidewalk where that wall fell on all those cars. I feel like crying now."