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7 years later, Garner recalls deadly ConAgra explosion

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Four people died in the Garner plant explosion on June 9, 2009.

There's a small memorial outside of the former ConAgra plant in Garner. Flowers line the fence that faces Jones Sausage Road. The items were placed there by children of one of the victims killed in the 2009 explosion.

Seven years ago this Thursday, there was a blast at the plant while 300 people were inside.

"It was chaos," recalled Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams. "I saw the building was demolished. I saw the cars demolished and I saw people that were hurt, emotionally and physically."

When EMS arrived at the plant, employees were running toward first responders and calling out for help. The ceiling collapsed, small fired were popping up, toxic chemicals were pouring through the building, and dozens of people were trapped inside.

A natural gas leaked caused the explosion.

Investigators survey the wreckage during recovery operations Wednesday, June 10, 2009, at ConAgra Foods Inc., in Garner

"I stayed there three days total. I lost a lot of sleep. I slept about three hours in three days, but I felt like I needed to be on top of it for my citizens," Williams said.

Four people were killed. The Medical Examiners Report shows all the victims suffered blunt-force head trauma when debris fell on them.

Maggie Jones worked at the plant for 37 years. She lives up the road from the former facility and used to walk to work.

Jones was very good friends with one of the victims, Rachel Pulley.

"She was a mom and she was a Christian lady, that's why we always stayed together," Jones said.

There's a mosaic memorial at White Deer Park to honor those killed.


After the explosion, ConAgra donated the 98-acre property to the Town of Garner.

The lot has sat vacant for years. The building was leveled. "No Trespassing" signs are up, and weeds are growing among concrete.

The Town says it is aggressively trying to bring in another company.


"We lost about $55 million worth of taxable investment and around 400-500 jobs," said Garner Economic Development Director Joseph Stallings. "We're looking for a company that is going to be a real jewel in the Garner's crown. Something the community can be proud of and something that will offer the folks that lives there the opportunity to better themselves and lives of their children."

In March of this year, ConAgra was found liable of negligence in a civil lawsuit. The company was ordered to pay more than $108 million.

A spokesperson for the Omaha-based company says it has multiple grounds for appeal.

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