KINSTON, N.C. – Joseph Moore was working at his job as a molder in a plastics plant when the thunderous explosion sent ceiling tiles and shards of metal crashing down on his head.
In the smoke, confusion and scramble to get out before a fireball engulfed the factory, Moore thought it had to be just one thing -- terrorism.
"I thought somebody had slipped a bomb in there -- even in little Kinston," Moore said Wednesday between bites of fried chicken and biscuits from the Red Cross. "Ever since 9/11, we have to stay on our guard all the time."
With the fiery words of President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night still ringing in their ears, several workers who escaped the deadly blast at the West Pharmaceutical plant imagined it was the work of America's enemies.
Some worried it was a plane. Others thought bomb because of the lack of explosive chemicals in that part of the plant. Dazed and soot-streaked workers weren't ready to rule anything out.
"Honestly, with this war situation, I thought we were a major target," said Sampson Heath, who was knocked off his feet by the explosion at the opposite end of the plant. When he stood up, he could hear trapped co-workers screaming for help.
"Your life did flash before your eyes," he said.
"It's hard to believe," added plastics molder Tyron Cotton. "It's like 9/11 all over."
Two miles from the burning plant, workers and family members gathered at Immanuel Baptist Church, which was serving as a Red Cross staging area. Smoke rose above the steeple as darkness closed in, the air permeated by a smell that seemed an odd mixture of burning plastic and smoked sausage.
Workers gathered at the church to search for missing colleagues, and to reunite with their own families. They clutched photographs of loved ones, read their Bibles and scanned the crowd for familiar faces.
Every so often, there would be an eruption of joy as someone else was counted among the living.
"Thank you Jesus!" Heath's cousin, Shaenetta Blount, screamed as she hugged him tightly around the neck. "This boy is a miracle right here."
Alvin Lee drove from a nearby pickle plant to find his son Jeremy, a machinist at the plant. Jeremy had called his mother, but Lee wanted to see his son with his own eyes.
"It makes a difference," he said. "Hearing him is one thing. Seeing him is another."