WOODBINE — Jannie Everett’s ongoing work to establish a memorial for victims of Camden County’s worst-ever disaster is yielding unexpected results.
Everett learned a fire engine that was among the first at the scene of the Feb. 3, 1971 explosion at the Thiokol plant in Woodbine is still parked in a bay at Kingsland Fire Station No. 5, off Harriett’s Bluff Road.
She and other volunteers working to establish the memorial for victims of the explosion that claimed 29 lives and injured another 50 gathered Thursday at the fire station to see the old Engine No. 4 intact and in good condition.
Everett was surprised to learn any vehicles that responded to the explosion still existed. She envisions the fire truck being part of a display at the museum she and others are trying to establish.
“It’s a great historical artifact,” she said. “It’s something we could build around.”
They got an added surprise at the fire station when they learned three rolls of film documenting the emergency response to the explosion and other memorabilia from the explosion were in a storage cabinet. Now, Everett said she is looking for a movie projector to watch the old film.
Everett is seeking former workers, emergency responders and their families, which is a challenging task.
An estimated 500 workers were employed at the Thiokol plant, which was manufacturing flares for the military fighting in Vietnam when the explosion occurred.
Emergency workers throughout Southeast Georgia and North Florida responded to the explosion. Victims were taken to eight hospitals in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
Volunteers will have a booth at today’s Woodbine Crawfish Festival in their attempt to find more people who were there or who know people who were there.
“So far, there are 103 people that we’ve located,” she said. “A lot of people have come forward and said they thought everyone forgot about them.”
Everett said it’s important to find them because they can provide a first-hand account of the disaster.
“We still have to contact all these cities,” she said. “To have the oral history of these people telling their stories is important.”
The stories show the powerful memories that remain with those who were there decades later.
“Some have survivor’s guilt,” Everett said. “They knew they had a problem, but they never got any counseling.”
Volunteers are working to establish a memorial ceremony for the 45th anniversary next year. State Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, and state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, are working to have the General Assembly hold a moment of silence Feb. 3 at 10:53 a.m. as a tribute to the victims.
The ultimate goal is to establish a memorial and museum for the 50th anniversary in 2021, Everett said.
“They’re glad to get their stories told,” she said. “The human spirit triumphed over this whole thing.”