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ConAgra employees return to work after fatal blast

Some employees at the ConAgra Foods plant in Garner returned to work Sunday, nearly six weeks after an accidental natural gas leak sparked an explosion that killed three and people injured dozens.

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GARNER, N.C. — Workers at a Slim Jim snack plant in Garner returned to work Sunday, more than a month after a natural gas leak sparked severely damaged the plant and killed three people.

ConAgra employees will spend this week training and getting equipment at the north end of the factory running again. Production will resume July 27.

”I’m ready to go back to work,” ConAgra employee David Lyons said Sunday.

Nearly 40 employees were also hurt in the June 9 explosion that caused a partial collapse of the plant, the only one in the nation that makes the beef jerky product.

Of the injured, one remained in critical condition and two were in good condition Monday at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

Lyons, who wasn't working at the time of the explosion, said he hopes that getting back to work will help employees to begin healing.

“You're more or less concentrating on your work," he said. "So, you're busy doing that, and you're not really thinking about the other things."

“They move on by getting back to work,” Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "When the history books are written, it will be a tragedy. The healing and recovery process is going to take some time."

ConAgra has provided full pay and benefits to the plant's 900 workers since the explosion. With the plant reopen, the company said, it is operating under normal attendance procedures.

Some employees returned to work at the Jones Sausage Road facility, while others reported to a temporary training site at the Faith Zone Worship Center on Mechanical Boulevard in Garner.

“It has been a part of this community for an extremely long time. A lot of the people in this community have worked there at one time or another. So, it is home," Lyons said.

Starting back production couldn't come at a better time for the company. The supply of Slim Jim products on store shelves is running low across the country.

At the time of the explosion, ConAgra had only a 40-day inventory. Officials said Monday it will be a few months before it is able to fully meet customer demand.


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