Woodbine, GA Plant Explosion, Feb 1971


Brunswick, Ga. (AP) -- An explosion Wednesday destroyed a building where flares were being manufactured for use in Vietnam and killed 24 persons.
Thirty-three others were hospitalized, seven of them in critical condition.
Authorities said the explosion at the Thiokol Chemical Corp. plant tossed bodies as far as 300 feet, smashed cars and started fires that spread to three other buildings.
Ten acres of pine forest surrounding the site about 25 miles south of Brunswick near the Florida border were set afire by the blast, raising a heavy black pall of smoke to hover over the rubble in a misting rain. The blast was heard 18 miles away.
J. B. GALLOWAY, Thiokol division manager in charge of the plant, said a fire in the building apparently set off the blast. He told Gov. Jimmy Carter, who flew to the scene immediately, that the material processedin the plant is not normally explosive.
"It's a puzzle to us and news that it would even explode," he said.
The injured were carried to hospitals in St. Mary's Folkston and Brunswick, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla. They went by helicopter, airplane, ambulance and automobile.
Makeshift morgues were set up in the Camden County courthouse in Woodbine and a one-story building used as changing rooms for the company's female employes.
Hundreds of persons waited outside the buildings in the chilly drizzle to learn if relatives and friends were among the dead.
Bodies were placed shoulder to shoulder on the floor of the cinderblock company building. They were covered with sheets.
An elderly woman, who said she was looking for her sister-in-law, lifted one of the sheets. She sagged to the floor.
"Oh God -- oh God, my sweet Jesus, help us," she cried. "Tell me it's not so."
Only a concrete wall and twisted metal remained of the building where the explosion occurred. Smoke and a chemical odor hung in the air.
Shredded clothing could be seen in the blackened wreckage. A rescue worker pushed aside debris to expose a pair of scorched and muddy overalls and a work shoe.
"That's all there is left," he said.
GALLOWAY said the FBI assisted in identifying the bodies.
Asked if there was any indication of sabotage, he said, "We're checking all possibilities."
When used in warfare, the magnesium trip flares manufactured in the building are connected to wires. An enemy soldier stumbling into a wire sets off the flare, illuminating the area.
It was about 10 hours after the blast before company officials could release the exact toll and identify the dead.

Charleston Gazette West Virginia 1971-02-04