Imperial Foods fire survivors recall horrors from 25 years ago

Survivors remember Hamlet fire 25 years later

HAMLET, NC (WBTV) - Bobby Quick revisits the place where 25 people lost their lives 25 years ago this month.

The location he returned to is in the Richmond County community of Hamlet, North Carolina where passionate screams of grief framed much of the chilling narrative at old Imperial Foods plant, and poignant reminders of bravery remain seared in a town's psyche.

Quick exemplifies the courage of man who kicked his way through a door that was deliberately locked allowing him and other workers to find a lifesaving path to safety.

He recalls the experience from September 3 of 1991. "So I backed up to the brick wall, and ran as hard as I could and with a flying superman kick and it came open, and all of the women who were with me came out."

Annette Zimmerman who also worked at the chicken processing plant survived the blast and the blaze.

"Soon as I saw the sunlight from the door being opened. I passed out," she said. "By the time the paramedics were out here. I had passed out twice. They were handing out oxygen masks."

Hamlet is one of North Carolina's best known cities connected to the rail road industry.

A new Amtrak station points to that, and the Richmond County community of 6800 is the birth place of jazz legend John Coltrane, and also along US 74 is this telling tribute to a group of workers who lost their lives while on the clock.

While 25 were killed on that day, 54 people were injured and across this community more than 40 individuals lost a parent.

Amy Perry's brother Michael Albright was among the casualties.

"Healing is a process that we go through every day," she said.

Michael Albright's name tops the list workers who didn't make it out alive.

"As community we have pulled together. There has been a lot of uplifting moments in the tragedy that has happened," Perry said.
One of those moments came on the 10th anniversary, and was led by pastor Tommy Legrand who was a driving force in getting the building demolished.

"I feel like it was our responsibility to be involved to assist the people bring some healing to bring some progress," Legrand said.

The old plant is a memorial site.

And like so many others, Bobby Quick sees the flashbacks in his head, feels the pain in body, and ponders why the businesses owner Emmett Roe only served four years of 19-year sentence connected to the deaths of 25 people.

Prosecutors contend it was Roe who ordered the doors locked to stop the theft of chicken at his plant.

"I think about it every day that I wake up," Quick said.

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