Two Workers Dead, Dozens Injured After Blast at N.C. ConAgra Foods Facility

June 10, 2009
An explosion rocked a ConAgra Foods facility in Garner, N.C. around 11:30 a.m. on June 9, killing two workers and sending more than 40 workers to local hospitals, four of them with critical burns. Four fighters were sent to the hospital after they inhaled ammonia, which is used at the facility as a refrigerant.

The explosion blew the roof off part of the facility, causing an outside wall to collapse and crush several cars, and blew workers off their feet. One employee remains missing. The employees taken to local medical facilities had injuries, like broken bones and bruises, consistent with those suffered in a blast, said hospital officials.

Some 280 employees were working at the 500,000 square foot facility at the time of the blast. The facility manufactures Slim Jim products. ConAgra acquired it in 1998.

“No words can express how saddened we are by these events today,” said Gary Rodkin, CEO of ConAgra Foods. “All of our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. ConAgra Foods will provide our people with all of the support they need, and we will continue to work with local authorities to identify the cause of this accident. We are deeply grateful for the work of our local team and the emergency and public safety officials in attending to our employees.”

Investigators from ConAgra and from the North Carolina Department of Labor are on site, but there are safety concerns about combing through the site for causes until the building has been stabalized.

Although a company spokesperson acknowledged the facility had received a threat earlier in the week, he said they did not believe it was related to the explosion. However, Garner Police Sergeant Joe Binns said it was too early to rule out any cause and that authorities still were focused on rescue, rather than investigation.

The company is setting up a fund for contributions from ConAgra Foods employees and the local community, and will continue to provide employee assistance counselors for employees and their families. The company also said it would continue to pay the employees at the Garner facility, even though it might be a while until they could return to work.

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