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Monday, September 04, 2006

Dark Day

And it was, literally, a dark day...one of those hanging-gray days we've been having a lot of lately. It was just one week ago and we were zipping through Monmouth in the schoolbus-yellow campaign car that you've been seeing for some months now.

Husband Chuck is a professional videographer and can detect smoke before a detector does, but in this case we all saw it--billows of smoke rolling from the Wells pet food factory over by the railroad tracks in the southeast part of town.

We happened to be among the very first on the scene after the emergency crews; and while Chuck rolled tape, assistant Kate Johnson and I watched in horror as the smoke got blacker and the column climbed higher, and distinctly heard explosions while studying a propane tank sitting dangerously near the warehouse.

Before very long, knots of people formed--hard-working people with anxious eyes, some of whom worked or had once worked or had wanted to work at the plant.

And very soon after that, a sweep began to move people back, one block at a time, out of the danger of that propane tank blowing or who knew what else happening.

I asked if I could help and a couple of women--apparently civilians, but working with admirable calm and authority-- suggested I evacuate houses. So I knocked on a few doors and gave a few families the word before it became obvious that many others were doing an effective job of getting people to safety.

From then on, it was just watch and see. By the end of the day, when Kate and I had returned to pick up Chuck, there was that startling stretch of bare sky where a building had been. No fatalities, praise God; although once again some brave firefighters had had to be treated for heat exhaustion. Stand and gaze at an inferno like that, and be once again grateful that there are men and women trained to head into it and tame it to keep us safe.

What made me feel sick as I watched was the thought that there went more jobs. We have lost so many in the 17th District: why should this happen here?

As it turned out, 75 people work at the plant; but then that wonderful American resolve kicked in. The company has vowed to continue, stronger than ever. And the employees have been working this past week to clean the place up.

It's as true in the workplace as it is in making laws and building up the District: pull together, put shoulder to the wheel, and good things happen: "Together, WE CAN."

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