Neighbors cope with blasts at plant

Staff WriterFebruary 15, 2008 

  • Fort Bragg explosives experts will spend a fourth day today detonating munitions that turned up at a scrap yard south of downtown, and investigators say it's still too soon to say how much longer the noisy operation will take.

    Raleigh police planned to close Garner Road to traffic today at 8 a.m.

    The American Red Cross will continue operating a day shelter for area residents about two miles away at Garner United Methodist Church.

    Since the accidental explosion Tuesday morning that injured two workers, a Fort Bragg explosive ordnance disposal unit has been methodically sifting -- and exploding -- a collection of anti-tank rockets and projectiles mixed into a pile of scrap metal dropped off at Raleigh Metals Processors on Feb. 7.

    Raleigh police did not release new details Thursday about how the munitions ended up at the scrap yard.

    Greg Brown, CEO of the scrap metal plant, said his company has passed along to Raleigh police and investigators from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives the driver's license number and other information related to the person who brought in the munitions along with a load of scrap metal.

    Adrian Bravo, the scrap metal yard employee who was taken to WakeMed after the initial explosion, was released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.

    The other employee, Isai Bravo Santiago, was treated and released Tuesday.

— Bombs burst in the air, and Garner Road residents flinch, maybe place a hand on a window pane just to feel the glass tremble in the echo of the explosion.

A school bus maneuvers around a blockade. The elementary school kids do not even gawk as they step off. They walk along yellow tape cordoning off an Army unit methodically destroying anti-tank munitions improperly dropped off at a metal recycler in this largely industrial neighborhood.

For those living just outside the blast zone, another day of detonations brings another day of early morning evacuations, another day of soothing anxious toddlers every time the explosions make the walls of a mobile home shake. And it's another day of shuttling Pudgy the pug to the safety of a quiet kennel to spare his nerves.

A Fort Bragg ordnance disposal unit has supervised 26 explosions since Tuesday evening, including the six that rattled the windows of Joyce Smith's house several blocks away Thursday.

The routine rumble of trains rolling behind the neighborhood and large dump trucks barreling down Garner Road has been replaced by a silence broken by piercing cracks, followed by concussive booms from the Raleigh Metals Processors plant.

"It's running me crazy, and they ain't told us nothing," said Smith, a senior citizen unable to stray far from her house without an oxygen tank.

Smith accompanied her neighbor Jane Harrell on a brief errand outside the neighborhood Thursday, only to find herself on the wrong side of the police blockade as the munitions team prepared another detonation. The Raleigh police officer would not let them drive back down the street to their homes until after the detonation, Smith said.

But she was low on oxygen and said she was afraid her tank would not last the expected 45 minutes. Unwilling to wait out the Fort Bragg crew and its meticulous preparations, Smith and Harrell made evasive maneuvers, driving a serpentine route through a neighboring mobile home park to evade police detours.

The Fort Bragg unit already has destroyed the munitions that were easiest to extract, as well as the projectiles found inside a plant hopper. The trickier part, Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said Thursday, will be determining how many devices are left compacted in bales of scrap metal that have been processed already.

"They believe there may be or could be some munition within those bales, and so because they can't see everything in there, it's impossible to know how many rounds there might be inside those bales," Sughrue said.

Those are hardly the words Harrell wanted to hear after spending another $20 Thursday to keep Pudgy at the veterinarian's kennel.

Harrell, who lives in a brick duplex about a half-mile from Raleigh Metals Processors, said the inconsistent drumbeat of explosions has not troubled her three cats too much.

Pudgy, on the other hand, has not fared as well, holing up bunker-style in their home, she said.

"He's about a six-to-800-dollar dog, and I'm not having him being put through this torment," said Harrell, 44. "I don't want his nerves shot like that. I mean, he's my little baby."

Run and hide

Just a few blocks south at the Schenley Square mobile home park, Angelina Bautista, 28, spent Thursday afternoon tucked inside a three-bedroom trailer with her four children. The youngest, 2-year-old Joanna, hovered next to her, clutching a sippy cup in one hand and a tear-stained tissue in another.

"Every time there's an explosion, she runs and hides in the bedroom," Bautista said of her daughter.

Larry Jones, the CEO of the Garner Road YMCA, was not crying but joked that he's feeling the stress. The soldiers and police have been using the YMCA as their command center. That has meant shutting down the YMCA and scrambling to find a home for before-school, after-school and track-out child-care programs for students of year-round schools, programs that serve about 500 children, Jones said.

"I'm baldheaded already, but I'm even more baldheaded now," he said with a laugh.

Working with the city's parks and recreation department, Shaw University and St. Augustine's College, they have managed to parcel out most of their programs, Jones said.

It hasn't been easy. Jones and a skeleton crew of employees manned the phones at the YMCA on Thursday to keep spreading the word about the suspended and relocated programs.

The whole time, they had the front-row view of the blast zone denied television and print reporters cordoned off a couple of blocks south. Not that he spent much time watching.

You've seen one scrap yard anti-tank explosion, you've seen them all.

lorenzo.perez@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4643

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