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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Part Four: The Big BOOM From Eastman.. Exclusive Video Remembrances From Riverview Residents

"It was a scary time.. people in Riverview who weren't hollering, were just walking around, dazed."


Although the October 4, 1960 explosion at Tennessee Eastman's Aniline plant brought death and destruction to the plant, employees and their families, it also left the neighborhood closest to it, scarred as well.

"I was watching the Douglass football players practicing on the ball field," remembers Mrs. Ethel Ruth Russell, who was living in the Riverview Apartments at that time. "All of a sudden, there was a big BOOM, and all the players fell to the ground." Then we saw all the smoke and just knew the Eastman had blown up. Parents came out and began hollering and gathering up their children."

"My husband Nathan had just left for work at Eastman," remembers Mrs. Alma Bly, "and after we saw where the explosion was, we didn't have time to grab anything, no money or nothing, we just took off out the door, tried to get out of the area."

"Everybody was so scared," says Mrs. Lilly Smith of Dunbar Street. "The big boom blew out my big picture window, and I got my kids and left as quick as I could."

One photograph in the newspaper of the emergency room entrance at the then-Holston Valley Community Hospital was of an ambulance, dropping off injured workers. The light-colored ambulance you see to the far left in the picture to the left, belonged to Curry's Mortuary.

"We were the first ambulances there," remembers Mr. Horace V. Curry, then-owner of Curry's Mortuary on Lincoln Street. "We had a man on a cot and they told us to get out, and right after we moved him, where we had been standing, exploded and threw the man off the cot. The cot got knocked about 30, 40 feet away, and we just put him back on it."

"Coty Deering had just stopped by the house after school," says Mrs. Nora Mae Taylor Alexander of Dunbar Street, "and we were having tea when there was this big boom. We both looked at each other, and Coty said 'what was that?"

"It was the first time I ever saw my father cry," remembers Mr. Wallace Ross, Junior. "We felt the rumbling all the way over in Gate City, and when my father got home from Eastman that night, we could tell in his face that something was terribly wrong."

"After I heard the rumblings and saw all the smoke," says Mrs. Willie Kate Bradford on Dunbar, "Sister Sneed came over from across the street, and we worried and prayed together because my husband and her husband Brother Sneed were both out there. When my husband came home, he didn't say much about it."

"We made several trips to the hospital with patients four and five people deep," remembers Horace Curry. "Although we were the first to get there and carried many injured to the hospital, the city of Kingsport refused to pay us for our services. For a while, we were the only ambulances equipped with oxygen at the scene, and we went through many tanks. Back then, you didn't wait to be called out, you just went because of your dedication to the business. Back then, the City of Kingsport did not want to pay us for our services, and I felt it was because we were black," he says. "We finally had to sue to get paid, and we won our case."

"Sister Sneed decided to stay at home to wait to hear from Brother Sneed," says Mrs. Bradford, "and when I left Riverview in Mrs. Goodson's car from across the street, I saw all the people marching along through the Underpath, almost single file, just like Pharoah's Army."

"I was working on the store window at the Diana Shop downtown," says Mrs. Pinkie Horton
(in the picture at right, the Diana Shop on Broad Street is to the left near the top of the picture). "When the blast hit, all the windows in the other stores around me, just shattered, broke. The window in the Diana Shop where I was, started bowing in and out, but did not break. I believe The Lord had favor with me, because if that window had broke, it would have cut me to pieces."

"The blast hit, and the roll-out windows in my apartment in the Riverview Apartments all slammed shut," says Mrs. Louetta Hall. "I looked out one window towards the Eastman, and I saw a steel beam falling back to the ground from where it apparently, had been blown up to. It was red-hot and smoking, like a fireplace poker."

"I had three Douglass teachers in my house after the explosion," remembers Mrs. Virgealis "Jill" Ellis of East Sevier Avenue. "The Hendricks family, the Webb family and Mrs. Josephine Bowers. Their children were all crying, but were comforting each other, while we tried to account for all the other teachers. We were finally able to find out, everybody had gotten to safe shelter with friends and family."

"It turns out.. we were all family that night," she says.

15 people dead.. 60 people injuried seriously enough to require a hospital visit, including our own William Evans, left severely injured for life by the blast. Dozens of other people, like the unidentified man in the picture to the right, with cuts and bruises.

And an entire neighborhood emotionally scarred for life.

"Every once in a while nowadays, we hear unusual loud sounds coming from Eastman," says Mrs. Cookie Harris, whose house on Dunbar Street is within site of the former Aniline plant. "And each time, we hear those strange noises, I wonder.. oh my.. is it going to blow up again?"

"I had been through plenty of explosions during World War Two," says Mr. Jerome Pierce of Carver Street, "and this one felt no different."

"But this one was close to home. I just hope we never have to go through it again."

TOMORROW: News media outlets were buzzing the day after the Eastman Explosion,
reporters and photographers trying to cover the blast from all angles.
In their reports, they talked to dozens of people, except folks in
Riverview, the neighborhood closest to the blast.
In this column tomorrow, relive how the city of Kingsport pulled
together to take care of its dead and wounded, and what the world read
about the explosion, although Riverview residents were a little closer to
the disaster.