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

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Comments

1972 Valdese bomb shelter explosion

Thank you for including this story. Valdese does not carry it in their official history page, which I saw several years ago. Upon inquiry, I received a reply that they were aware of the event, but had purposefully omitted it as it could be too painful for some.

I have yet to find anyone who is aware that the Children's Park in Valdese is actually a memorial to these kids. Yes, there is a plaque to them placed on a hill behind the picnic shelter, but it is poorly placed and difficult to read the inscription. I have always felt that any memorial should be placed at the entrance of the park so that people would actually know that this park for children was meant in honor of the five who never got the chance to grow up.

Very few people seem to remember or even be aware of this tragic incident. Personally, I find it painful that my former classmates have been forgotten and their memories buried along with them. Though this tragedy was a shame to have occurred, I somehow feel it is shameful to have fostered an air of omission about this part of Valdese history. These children were people. They don't deserve to be swept under the rug and their stories hidden like some dirty little secret. It will not be long until 40 years have passed since this tragedy occurred. Hopefully, it will be alright to mention their names again, and remember our passed friends openly. They deserve that.

Thank you for carrying this story and letting those that still mourn them find their story on the largest information depository in existance.

My sisters and I lived in

My sisters and I lived in the neighborhood where this happened. We had been in there the day before and came out so light -headed, that we promised not to go back. All of the other kids who died, came to our house only minutes before, and asked us to go play. We heard the massive explosion. It rattled our whole house and completely cracked our foundation. Mr. Garrou stocked the shelter with food,snacks & drinks. We played in there so many times. I have since lost both of my sisters and was blessed to have all those years with them. They both left me with 2 children of their own. Thank you God for leaving me pieces from them both. Even though it's been almost 30 years ago, I still remember it like it was only yesterday. My heart goes out to the families from my old neighborhood and i now can feel the pain like they felt so long ago.

Location

I currently live in valdese. Where did this incident occur (what area, street, etc)?

I remember the bomb shelter

I remember the bomb shelter explosion vividly (I was only 12). I also remember Kim Brown, and more recently the sad news of my friend Kenneth Brinkley passing. To be such a small community, Valdese has had a it's share of heart ache.

explosion in 1972

I remember this tragic event very well. in fact some one menioned that would be nice if someone would talk about the children that died on that day. Hard to beleive that it will soon be 40 years my question is what street did this happen on ? I think it would be nice if someone would do a dockomemory about these precious.

Valdese tragedy

I am the niece of the late jean Garrou. I find it comforting that the great people of valdese have taken the time to recognize my aunt and her friends who so sadly and tragically passed that day in 1972. I feel as though the passing of these children should serve as a reminder to people that life is not a guarantee and is to be cherished. I wish that the memory of what happened that day would be honored and not forgotten. My hope is that all who experienced this tragedy will be comforted in knowing that though these children so needlessly lost their lives that fateful day they are not forgotten. I never got to know my aunt, but I know her spirit was strong and she would have done great things in this world. To those who survived this tragedy,one way or another, we are united in the sadness and loss of people who mean so much, wether or not we have been able to see or hug or kiss them, they our in our hearts and minds and prayers every day and will be forever. I love you aunt Jean

I feel their pain

My aunt was the only surviving child. I am very close to her and my father's side. I have lost a child to cancer and reading this makes me wish that I could have somehow spared these families this pain. I knew about the story but hadn't ever looked into it before now. I am heartbroken. I know that this tragedy changed these families lives forever. I am 2 generations back...I haven't forgotten them...they did not die in vain.

Explosion in Valdese in 1972

I was home from college for the summer when the tragedy occurred. The evening was coming on as I sat on the living room floor listening to the radio. The explosion shook our home and we were several miles from the site. Neightbors ran outside in shock and disbelief. We thought an explosion had happened at one of the mills in town.

To this day, I hate listening to Hey Jude and Jean since I associate the events of that explosion to the summer I listened to the radio playing those songs.

I think we were all in shock over the senseless deaths of these children and chose to not speak of it. I think this is the way of mountain people and Waldensians. There is no shame just sadness. It was an accident that was the result of a structure that was built to save lives in the event of a nuclear holocaust. The irony was too obvious to be contemplated.