Thiokol Chemical Company Explosion
(in unincorporated county area)

On former Floyd Plantation property at Horsepen Bluff, Thiokol Chemical Company built a plant for the manufacturing and testing of solid-propellant rocket motors.  This is the same company that built the defective "O" rings that caused the Shuttle Challenger disaster (though they did not build the "O" rings at this plant).

At 10:53 AM on 3 February 1971, a blast destroyed a magnesium trip-flare assembly building #M132.  This explosion killed 27 workers (21 black and 6 white) and injured 34 others.  At least 15 others received minor injuries.  Apparently, workers were burning material near a warehouse that was filled with material which was labeled non-flammable.  In fact, the material was flammable.  The explosion was huge and shattered the building.  The blast was felt 50 miles away and started a fire that burned 200 acres.  Several other building were severely damaged; victims were hurled up to 400 feet.  Newspaper photos from the event are impressive, to say the least.  Unlike today's media where anything goes, the local papers at the time were compassionate enough not to publish photos of the victims.

Based on the newspaper accounts, the response from Camden residents was immediate.  Locals came out to help not just the injured but the families of the victims as well.  In some cases both parents of families were hurt and/or killed so aid was offered in giving the children of the victims places to live.  Governor Jimmy Carter came down to survey the damage and offer aid.  In addition, life insurance and social security benefit applications were rushed through.  Warnings also went out to watch for "2 white men" who were approaching the families of black victims.  Under the guise of bringing the families checks, victims were told to sign forms that in fact may lead to the families' loss of the money due to them.

In 1986, Rhone-Poulenc bought the land.  There is a small plaque with the victim's names on it, which is located at the entrance to the company property.  In 2000, Aventis Corporation purchased the plant; they make agricultural chemicals.

Not surprisingly, no mention of this event is on Thiokol's web-site.  While some say that Thiokol was generous to the victim's families, there are others who say that in reality compensation was slow, and lacking.  Money from life insurance policies certainly does not heal the wounds of the ones left behind.

Sources:  Camden's Challenge and The Southeast Georgian Vol. 68 No. 8, Feb. 11, 1971 (original newspaper - not from archives).  The Camden County Tribune 11 February 1971.  Reprinted on March 20, 1998.

The local history books do not list those who were killed so I [Tara Fields] will list the ones that I can find.  These records are from the newspaper listed above and from my own cemetery database.  I am not listing the names of the survivors as most, if not all, of them are still alive today.  If I have missed any, please contact me and I will add them.

Visit the Thiokol Memorial Project website.

Those who were killed include, but is not necessarily limited to:

BANKS Ethel CONNELLY Yvonne Marie JAMES Annie Mae Hutchinson RAULS Sandra Regina
BOOTH Annie COX Jack KENNEDY Mack ROBERSON Cyrus Demory
BOOTH Gloria J. DAVIS Mae Hazel KING Essie Diana Green ROBERTS Betty Jean
BRUNSWICK Bertha Walker DAVIS Mildred LIFE Gracie Mae Small SPELLS Lillie Bell
BURCH Betty R. Dawson ELLIS Howard Sr. LOLLAR Bertha M. (Hill) SULLIVAN Cheryl M.
BURCH Charles FULLER Willie Mae Austell MONAK Charles T. TAYLOR Mae Alice
CHAPMAN James L. HUTCHINSON Pearlie May Young PARLAND James WILLIAMS Annie Lois

 

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