A massive explosion rocked a pharmaceutical plant here, killing four people, injuring dozens and igniting the wooded area behind the plant, generating a huge plume of black smoke.
The explosion occurred at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday inside the West Pharmaceutical plant just outside of Kinston, a town of about 25,000 located 65 miles southeast of Raleigh.
About 135 people were at work at the time of the explosion, according to the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.
According to West Pharmaceuticals, at least 27 people were injured, at least eight critically.
"We do not know the cause of the explosion at this time," according to a company press release. "We are working cooperatively with local and federal officials in an effort to determine the cause of this incident..."
The West Pharmeutical plant manufactures "syringe plungers and intravenous (IV) components" as well as other rubber materials, according to the press release.
Emergency officials conducted a voluntary evacuation Wednesday of the area in a mile radius around the plant, said Sgt. Frank Pierce of the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
The force of the explosion could be felt up to a mile away, said the Rev. David Hansley, pastor of the Original Freewill Baptist Church in Farmville.
Hansley said the blast "shook my house," and that the plume of smoke "looked like an awful, awful storm cloud coming up."
The Rev. Cliff Harvell, of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, said families of plant workers were taken to the Immanuel Baptist Church on Airport Road. Hundreds of people had gathered in and around the church, he said.
The Salvation Army and the North Carolina Baptist Men were also providng meals for family members and emergency workers at the church, and were expecting to provide meals for about 200 firefighters Wednesday evening.
Harvell was conducting a preliminary survey of the scene, in order to determine what funds and resources his organization could provide.
"We're just trying to get what areas we might be able to help in," he said.
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