Local News

Raeford turkey plant's neighbors rattled after ammonia leak

Posted January 6, 2011 3:54 p.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2011 6:41 p.m. EST

— A Hoke County turkey processing plant where an ammonia leak Wednesday led to an evacuation of nearby homes was cited 10 months ago for mishandling ammonia.

Records from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that House of Raeford Farms Inc. was fined $18,800 last March after inspectors found four serious violations and several other infractions at the company's plant in Raeford. The serious violations included the storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia and the safe management of hazardous chemicals.

An ammonia leak at the plant, at 520 E. Central Ave., led local authorities to shut down the facility and evacuate about 800 nearby homes. Residents were allowed to return home about eight hours after the leak was reported.

One House of Raeford employee was taken to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville for treatment of minor exposure injuries.

Inspectors with the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health and House of Raeford managers were at the plant Thursday to determine the cause of the leak.

Company spokesman Dave Witter said Wedneday that there was a mechanical failure in the refrigeration unit at the plant.

Although the plant won't reopen until Friday, employees were back inside Thursday to clean up and dispose of turkey carcasses that had been left on the assembly line.

Local authorities said about 1,448 residents within a half-mile of the plant received a reverse 911 call Wednesday advising them to leave the area. Some residents said Thursday, however, that they were never notified.

"I didn't hear anything," said Jerome Swann, who lives nearby with his wife and young daughter but has only a cell phone and no land line. "That's crazy. That's real scary."

Lydia Johnson said she didn't get an evacuation order either.

"There was a bunch of people outside House of Raeford, so we pulled over and asked what was going on, and they said their was some kind of gas leak," Johnson said.

Last April, a fire destroyed a House of Raeford plant in Maxton. In November 2003, a worker was killed by a chlorine leak at a company plant in Rose Hill.

Witter said safety is a top priority for House of Raeford, but in a span of several years, some accidents can happen.

Wednesday's leak left some neighbors rattled.

"It makes me a little nervous, especially for our daughter because she is so young," Angela Steffens said.

"I would think about moving if I was someone who was going to be here, but I am leaving anyway," Johnson said.

Others said industrial accidents are a known risk of living near a plant.

"It surprises us in a way, but we should be realistic and know that these things are going to happen from time to time," said a man who identified himself only as "Willie."