EDITOR'S NOTE: January 29 is the 18th anniversary of the fatal Kinston, North Carolina, rubber components factory explosion and fire.
Kinston, N.C., population 23,688, is no stranger to massive emergency response. In the past seven years the city has suffered direct hits from three very unwelcome visitors — Hurricanes Bertha, Fran and Floyd.
"Floyd took out a major part of our city," said G.S. "Greg" Smith, Kinston's director of operations for fire and police. "We had 300 homes affected by flood waters."
It was a different kind of disaster that captured Smith's attention on Jan. 29, 2003. An explosion followed by fire at a local plant resulted in 44 casualties, six of them fatally injured. Nearly two weeks after the blast, nine people were still listed in critical condition at a burn center in Chapel Hill.
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