Benton, TN Fireworks Plant Explosion, May 1983


Benton, Tenn. (UPI) -- An unlicensed fireworks factory exploded on a farm today, killing at least 10 people in a series of blasts that formed a mushroom cloud and hurled bodies into trees and through the roof of a nearby house.
Polk County Sheriff Frank Payne said five men and five women were killed. Payne said the only survivor, TOMMY WEBB, was thrown 70 yards into a field from the force of the explosion.
He was rushed to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga in critical condition with burns over 35 percent of his body.
"We have counted 10 torsos, but it is a pretty gory scene and there are parts of bodies. There may possibly be more bodies. There was not a single body that was intact," Payne said.
"From what we've ascertained, they were operating an illegal fireworks factory," Polk County Chief Deputy Sheriff James Burris said.
"There were bodies literally laying everywhere. From what we can find out, they were manufacturing M-80s fireworks. It's a very highly explosive firework."
The explosion shook windows 5 miles away and formed a mushroom cloud over the Webb Bait Farm on Welcome Valley Road near Benton, a rural community 40 miles east of Chattanooga.
Witnesses reported a scene of awesome destruction.
"It sounded like big firecrackers. What got me concerned was I heard a super big explosion. A few seconds after the boom, it sounded like a bunch of shotgun blasts going off," said Marc Hunt, who operates an Ocoee River rafting business a mile away.
"I saw the charred remains of a person who was about 30 feet from me. There was hardly anything left. A couple of ambulence people said there were parts of bodies up in the trees -- hands, legs and heads laying around."

Hutchinson News Kansas 1983-05-27



Benton, Tenn. (AP) -- Authorities issued a nationwide warrant yesterday for the owner of a bait farm that allegedly fronted for an illegal explosives factory where 11 workers were killed in a series of earthshaking blasts, the sheriff said.
Polk County Sheriff Frank Payne said DAN LEE WEBB was charged yesterday with the manufacture and possission of illegal explosives.
WEBB'S wife, LINDA SUE WEBB, who was in their home next door to the 40-by-65 foot metal barn that was shredded by Friday's blast, has told officials she thinks her husband is in the New York or New Jersey area, Payne said.
"I'd say the likelihood is now that he is aware of what happened here. And he may be on his way here," Payne said.
Seven bodies had been identified by yesterday, said Dr. William Bass, an anthropologist from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He said it probably will be "a couple of weeks" before all 11 are identified.
As federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents searched through the charred wreckage at the isolated hillside farm in this southeastern Tennessee town of 1,000 people, families and friends of the dead gathered quietly outside the small Polk County sheriff's office three miles from the blast site.
A refrigerated tractor-trailer truck next to the office contained the bodies.

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