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Monday, October 1, 2007

Part One: The Day The Eastman Blew Up.. This Week, Its Nearest Neighbor Remembers

4:30 PM on Tuesday, October 4, 1960.. a warm, early fall afternoon in Riverview.

Birds were singing, but after several cool mornings, the squirrels were already looking for nuts and berries, getting ready for what would seem like an early winter. Like the people of Riverview, the outside animals had long since gotten used to the distant hum of nearby industry.

After a rather routine day of book-learning, Douglass School had just let out its students for the day, and it wasn't long before the backyards and streets of the Riverview Neighborhood, kids were playing outside, glad to put the books down for regular kids activities. Inside almost every home, moms were inside fixing dinner, and husbands were either at home or at work, many of them at nearby Eastman.

It was, by all accounts, a normal, quiet, peaceful afternoon.

First.. a huge concussion. A split second later, an ear-shattering explosion.
Kids outside playing were immediately knocked to the ground. Windows in homes shattered, cupboards were emptied, furniture and appliances jumped away from walls, and parents rushed outside to hear several smaller explosions.

All eyes instinctively looked toward the Eastman. Black plumes of smoke billowed over the trees in the direction of the old drive-in on Wilcox Boulevard.

Fear automatically took over, because everybody knew.

The Eastman had blown up.

It was the day the ground shook in Riverview, Eastman's next-door neighbor, the homes nearest to the blast.

In less than 10 seconds, the initial Eastman Explosion had done to Riverview:

1. ..loosened bricks in the old Roundhouse behind Dunbar Street, rendering
the building unstable. It would later be torn down because of that,
according to Eastman.

2. ..broke out windows and loosened many of the steam pipes inside the nearby
Douglass High School. The late school custodian Harrison Gray said it
also moved the foundation of the building slightly, at the rear of the
cafeteria, causing several roof leaks that were never completely repaired
until the second floor was extended over the cafeteria two years later.

3. ..broke out Mrs. Lilly Smith's huge picture window in her living room on
Dunbar Street.

4. ..altered the stormwater runoff drains under the streets of Riverview.
Former public works employees said, for years, drains at Carver and
Douglass, Louis and Douglass, and Louis and Lincoln would clog up and
flood those intersections during hard rains.

5. ..caused certain sections of ground underneath the asphalted Dunbar Street
and the concreted Lincoln Street to settle and resettle. For years, the
city would continually have to fill in the resulting sinkholes that sunk
the asphalt and concrete and formed gaping holes in the middle of those

6. ..shifted the foundations of houses on Louis Street so severely, that some
doors and windows in those homes would no longer open and close properly.

7. ..caused pet dogs and cats in the neighborhood, especially Dewey Long's
hunting hounds, and Milton Ruffin's caged rabbits to shutter and shrink
away every time they heard a single loud noise. Dewey Long once said his
dogs were never good hunting dogs after that.

The explosion that killed 15 Eastman workers and injured dozens more, had a lasting impact on its nearest neighbor.

Every day for the next five days, we'll go back 47 years ago, through articles that were published in both the Kingsport Times and the Kingsport News, plus, other accounts from Eastman employees on the scene during and after the explosions.

Our commemoration of the anniversary includes on October 4th, the 47th anniversary, exclusive video interviews with some of our Riverview seniors, who were there the day Eastman exploded, and remember vividly the chaos that followed. Each one of our Riverview neighbors remembers something different about that day. It's a fascinating look back, and a series of first-person interviews you don't want to miss.

TOMORROW: Ask any resident of Riverview "Do you know what aniline dye is?"
You'll get a blank stare.
Little did they know.
The chemical Aniline changed their lives and the lives of others in
Kingsport forever.
In this column tomorrow, find out exactly what aniline dye is, and the
deadly combination of its elements, that sent fear into the streets of
Riverview on October 4, 1960, and led to one of the largest industrial
catastrophies in Tennessee history.