Claxton, GA Gas Explosion Destroys Plant, Nov 1972


Claxton, Ga. (UPI) -- A gas explosion that hit "like a bomb" demolished a huge poultry processing plant before dawn Thursday, burying members of a holiday work crew under slabs of concrete and chunks of steel.
Two persons were killed when the roof of the Claxton Poultry Co. plant caved in from the force of the blast and five more were injured, two of them seriously.
Another 11 workers, part of a maintenance detail which was cleaning up and sterilizing the production line for the next day's processing, escaped unhurt.
Mayor Perry DeLoach said the plant, one of two major employers in the south Georgia town of about 2,700, was almost three-fourths destroyed. Company officials estimated damage to the complex sprawling over five acres at $1 million and said it could be out of operation for as long as a year.
"It's a shambles, that's all there is to it," said DeLoach after viewing the scene. "This is going to hurt our economy drastically."
Another eyewitness reported: "It looked like a bomb went off right on the top. The roof is completely collapsed and the walls are sticking out at all angles."
Night watchman MARCUS ODUM, 53, said he was sitting in a six-by-six concrete block security office about 30 feet away when the explosion occurred. "It half knocked me out of my chair. At least I think it did because I found myself on the floor. I don't guess I got hurt."
The mayor said a consulting gas engineer for the city, Bob Grey of Athens, Ga., was investigating the cause. The explosion occurred near two 2,500 gallon boilers, fed by natural gas and diesel fuel, which heat the water used in scalding the 80,000 - 100,000 chickens processed during a normal shift.
"The cause of the accident is definitely undetermined, but we know it was a gas explosion. What happened was that somewhere some gas got into the building and hit a pilot-light or something," the mayor said.
Plant General Manager JIMMY RIGGS said if the explosion had happened during a normal working dayd, 200 employes would have been in the affected area. The plant employes 400.
The dead were identified as TILLMAN BARNETT of Collins and ERNEST SMITH of Claxton, both in their late 50s. The injured, all from Claxton, were DICK DOAK, WILLIAM DEKLE, NATHANIEL MAYNER, LEROY HAGAN and ROBERT GILLIS.
DOAK, foreman of the maintenance crew, was taken to Memorial Hospital in Savannah, 50 miles to the east, with head injuries and arm lacerations. DEKLE was taken to St. Joseph's hospital in Savannah with a broken leg.

Kingsport News Tennessee 1972-11-24