Garner pauses to mark blast

Staff WriterJune 17, 2009 

— City officials and residents took a moment Tuesday morning to remember those lost and injured in the ConAgra plant explosion.

About 50 people braved the steady rain to congregate at Lake Benson Park and mark the one-week anniversary of the explosion, which killed three and injured more than 40.

Shortly before 11:30 a.m., the time when the blast rocked the Slim Jim factory last Tuesday, they bowed their heads in a moment of silent reflection and prayer. A bell then tolled three times for each of the three victims -- Rachel Mae-Poston Pulley, Barbara McLean Spears and Lewis Junior Watson -- killed after a natural gas leak triggered the explosion.

"Do you know where you were at 11:27 a week ago?" Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams asked those in attendance, comparing the event to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy Jr. "I will always remember where I was and what I was doing, and it will always be in my mind and in my memory."

ConAgra employees at factories around the country held a similar moment of silence shortly before 11:30 a.m., asked by the corporation to shut off their machines in memory of the fallen and injured in Garner.

"Our hearts, minds, and prayers remain focused on all the employees affected by this past week's events," said plant manager Mark Ravenzahn. "I would ask each of you to remember them in a way that best suits your memories, remember them in a way that brings joy to your heart."

The mayor and other city officials also acknowledged the work of the emergency service workers who aided in rescue efforts.

"We come together during tough times," said Garner Police Chief Tom Moss. "I just hope that all the efforts of the public service workers that day will bring some comfort and solace to the families of those that passed away."

Many present had a personal connection to the tragedy, but listed different reasons for coming to the service.

"I came out here hoping that I could start healing," said Janelle Lynch, 30.

"I came for the memory of those that were lost," said George Williams, 56.

"I came out here in support of those that made it," said Laurie Sturgill, 39.

Lynch, Williams and Sturgill are ConAgra workers who were in the factory at the time of the explosion. All three said they felt blessed to be alive.

"We all know it could have been a lot worse," Lynch said.

Even as the town deals with the aftermath of the explosion -- two workers filed a lawsuit Monday against the contractor they believe is responsible for the accident -- several others said they were intent on moving forward.

"This is an incredibly stout-hearted group," said Hans Boye Boyeson, 60, a business owner in Garner. "It will take its toll emotionally but this community will rebound."

About 50 employees returned to the ConAgra plant for the first time Tuesday, to help clean the wreckage. Counselors were on hand throughout the day to provide support.

naureen.khan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4633

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