Portal:Disasters/Selected article/February 2008

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Destruction from the Hamlet chicken processing plant fire

The Hamlet chicken processing plant fire was an industrial disaster that took place at the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, USA on September 3, 1991, after a failure in a faulty modification to a hydraulic line. Twenty-five people were killed and 54 injured in the fire as they were trapped behind locked fire doors. Due to a lack of inspectors, the plant had never received a safety inspection in 11 years of operation, and it is thought that a single inspection would have easily prevented the incident.

A full federal investigation was launched, which resulted in the owner receiving a 20-year prison sentence, and the company received the highest fines ever handed out in the history of North Carolina. The investigation also highlighted failings in the authoritative enforcement of existing safety regulations, and resulted in a number of worker safety laws being passed. Accusations of racism were leveled at both the fire service and the city of Hamlet in the aftermath of the fire. The latter dispute, concerning a memorial service organized by the city, resulted in two separate, near-identical monuments being erected. The plant was never reopened.

The fire was North Carolina's worst industrial disaster, and the third worst American industrial disaster, exceeded only by the 1947 Texas City disaster and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

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