Smithfield employees released from hospital, plant reopens - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Smithfield plant to reopen Friday, all employees released from hospital

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Employees said they were told a water tower fell on an ammonia pipe. (Source: Austin Soles) Employees said they were told a water tower fell on an ammonia pipe. (Source: Austin Soles)
Employees being evacuated across the street from the plant. (Source: Oscar Giron Estrada) Employees being evacuated across the street from the plant. (Source: Oscar Giron Estrada)
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TAR HEEL, NC (WECT) -

Officials with the Smithfield Food Processing plant in Tar Heel have announced they will resume operations first shift Friday morning. They are having difficulty restoring power after a water tower fell on Tuesday, causing an ammonia leak and forcing the plant to be evacuated.

Emergency crews in Bladen County responded to the ammonia leak around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Dennis Pittman, Director of Smithfield Communications, said the plant will not be operational Wednesday as crews continue their clean up efforts. Only management and maintenance crews will have to report to the plant.

New details from Pittman show that 11 people were taken to the hospital and have all since been released.

Pittman also said the plant was originally supposed to be closed Friday and Saturday, but is reopening Friday to make up for lost time during the shut down.

The leak and evacuation

Emergency personnel began evacuating people from all facilities at the pork processing plant and sending them across NC Highway 87 according to Dennis Pittman, Director of Smithfield Communications. North Carolina DOT officials said a portion of NC 87 was closed due to the leak.

Pittman said eight or nine people were taken to the hospital. Pittman said of the people taken to the hospital, none of them had serious injuries and some were being check over for possible heat related symptoms. As of Tuesday night all but two of the workers taken to the hospital have been released. They are being monitored over night.

The primary investigation shows that a hot water tank fell over, knocking the valve off of a reserve ammonia tank spilling an unknown amount.

Pittman said there were about 2,400 employees at the plant, which is the largest pork processing plant in the world, at the time of the spill. There are an estimated 4,500-5,000 employees according to Pittman.

Workers were told to evacuate around 1 p.m. and were allowed to return to the plant around 2:30 p.m.,  but the plant remained non-operational as of Tuesday afternoon.

Officials said the spill looks accidental, but they are investigating all possibilities at this time.

Pittman said plant production will return as soon as possible, comparing this stoppage in work flow to when a hurricane or storm hits the area slowing production.

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