Valdese, NC Bomb Shelter Explosion, May 1972
OLD BOMB SHELTER EXPLODES, 5 KILLED.
Valdese, N.C. (UPI) -- A backyard bomb shelter built during the Cuban missile scare 10 years ago exploded Tuesday evening, killed five children who were playing on its steps.
A sixth child was injured in the blast which authorities speculate may have been caused by leaking gas from a butane gas tank or fumes from large quantities of gasoline stored in the shelter.
The powerful explosion blew the body of one child 300 feet onto a road and big pieces of the foot thick, steel reinforced concrete shelter were scattered over a wide area.
The children, police said, were playing "kid's games" on the steps leading down into the 15-by-25 foot shelter textile executive ED GARROU had sunk into the side of a steep hill about 70 feet to one side of his $40,000 brick home.
GARROU, during the shelter-building frenzy in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, had stocked the shelter with large quantities of gasoline for an electric generator and also installed a butane tank.
Keither Seigall, 19, a member of the Valdese Rescue Squad, said the explosion shook his trailer home three quarters of a mile away, and "when I got here, I smelled the gasoline fumes real strong."
The dead included GARROU'S daughter, JEAN ANITA, 12, DONALD ROBINSON, 13, his sister REGINA, 10, GLORIA HAMMOND, 12, and MIKE POWELL, 10. The only survivor among the neighborhood children playing at the shelter was BEA PICOU, the GARROU child's cousin, who lives next door.
The state bureau of investigation (SBI) was called in to look for the cause of the explosion that rocked this small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains.
The force of the explosion went mostly downhill, through the door. The heavy roof caved in, burying the bodies of three of the victims under such a pile of rubble that authorities had to bring in heavy equipment to uncover them.
Seigall, one of the first on the scene, said when he arrived, "the PICOU girl was in the grass, and she was alive."
Authorities said there were very few such shelters in Valdese, and GARROU'S was expensive to construct. Family friends said he "kept it up" and frequently changed the water and food stored inside.
However, Deputy Fire Marshal Sherrill Brittain said there were "a good many" bomb shelters in Valdese.
Middlesboro Daily News Kentucky 1972-05-31