All three victims recovered from ConAgra

June 10, 2009 5:36:07 PM PDT
Authorities recovered the remaining two victims' bodies from the ConAgra Foods plant on Jones Sausage Road. Sgt. Chris Clayton of the Garner Police Department made the announcement during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Officials originally suspended their search Tuesday evening so they could secure the building after heavy rains caused more roof damage.

Searchers removed the body of 43-year-old Barbara McLean Spears of Dunn, NC Tuesday. The other victims were 67-year-old Rachel Mae Poston Pulley of Clayton, NC and 33-year-old Louis Junior Watson also of Clayton.

Frank McLaurin of the Durham Urban Search and Rescue Team said searchers found two of the bodies within 100 feet of each other, but did not specify an exact location inside the plant. The third victim was found about 300 feet from the first two bodies.

A candlelight vigil will be held for the victims on Friday at 8 p.m. at Wake Baptist Grove located at 302 E Main Street in Garner.

ATF investigators said Wednesday night that once the building is safe they will begin their investigation as to what caused the explosion.

Authorities confirmed that there was an explosion on the processing side of plant Tuesday that caused the building to collapse with 300 workers inside. Garner police said there was no indication that a threat at the plant on Saturday was related to the explosion.

According to police documents, the threat was not a bomb threat -as some reports may have stated- but a fire threat. Police said an individual threatened to "burn the place down."

ConAgra Employees
Emergency Medical Services official Jeffrey Hammerstein said 41 people, including three firefighters, were taken to five local hospitals: Duke Health in Raleigh, Rex Hospital, UNC Hospitals, WakeMed Cary and WakeMed Raleigh. The patients suffered injuries ranging from burns to smoke inhalation.

The most severely injured are being treated at the NC Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill. At least four people are critical with burns covering between 40 and 60 percent of their bodies.

"Anything that covers more than 50 percent of the body surface area is a very major burn and can be complex to take care of and can result in major complications, including death," said Dr. Charles Cairns, professor and chairman of the department of emergency medicine at the University of North Carolina. "So these people are very severely burned."

Several other patients reportedly showed up later to hospitals with injuries and health concerns related to the incident.

"To date the injuries are fairly consistent with what you would see in an explosion and blast situation; broken bones, burns, contusions and we are seeing some complaints now about inhalation related worries," said Debbie Laughery with Wake Med Public Relations.

Other employees were checked out by authorities at the scene and then transported by bus to the Garner Senior Center to reunite with their family and co-workers.

Additional information about ConAgra Foods employees is available at the Garner Senior Center at 205 E Garner Road or you can call 919-779-0122.

Family members who need information about injured ConAgra employees can call the hospitals. Those numbers are: Wake -- 919-350-5105; Rex Healthcare -- 919-784-1525; UNC Hospitals -- 919-966-5006.

The Explosion
Around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, authorities were dispatched to the plant formerly known as GoodMark Foods. ConAgra acquired the nearly 50,000 sq. ft. facility in 1998. It is the only place in the country that makes the popular beef jerky Slim Jim snack food.

Images from Chopper11 HD showed several sections of the building's roof collapsed and part of the building's wall crushed cars in the parking lot.

Click here for images of the scene taken from Chopper11 HD

Employees told Eyewitness News they ran for the doors when they heard the explosion and smelled ammonia.

Emergency crews kept people away from the building because of an ammonia leak, which slowed the search and investigation process. That leaked was eventually contained.

The ammonia came from the company's refrigeration system. One of the lines containing the chemical broke when part of the building collapsed. Officials say the building has a several thousand gallon system that stores the ammonia.

The explosion left a contaminated cloud around the facility as authorities searched for the missing employees.

Crews wore special suits with oxygen supplies when they re-entered the building Wednesday.

ConAgra Foods posted a statement on its Web site Tuesday shortly after the incident that read in part, "The company is cooperating with local authorities to determine the scope of the incident and the extent of any injuries, and is sending a team of experts from the company to the facility. Our first priority is the safety and health of our employees and the local community."

Company spokesperson, Stephanie Childs, arrived in Garner from ConAgra Foods' Omaha headquarters Tuesday evening. She said their main concern is their employees.

"We are focused on the safety and the well being of our employees and the local community," she said. "We are working very closely with local authorities to investigate what was the cause of the accident.

Childs said Wednesday during a press conference that employees' vehicles were towed away from the plant to a secured lot and the company contacted workers about the location.

ConAgra employees who have questions about their personal possessions can call 1-866-484-9599.

ConAgra's CEO, Gary Rodkin, said Wednesday that the company set up a United Way fund for employees and contributed $100,000.

If you are interested in contributing to the ConAgra fund, visit www.unitedwaytriangle.org/conagra.


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