GRANITEVILLE, S.C. (WJBF) — It’s been 18 years since a deadly train crash in Graniteville. “You think about it all. When you hear that train at two or three o’clock, four o’clock in the morning goes by every night. You think about it then, too,” Robert Wise told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk.
Wise was inside his home a few yards away on January 6, 2005, when a Norfolk-southern train ran into another one already on the track near the Avondale Mills plant spilling chlorine. “The boom, the vibration actually knocked you out of bed if you wasn’t holding on,” he recalls. “Got up immediately, didn’t know what was going on. And in about 30 seconds, the neighbors in front of me were blowing the car horns, trying to get their daughter-in-law outta the car,” he added.
More than 5 thousand were evacuated. He was one of them. “I looked up at the streetlight and it looked like the haze was starting to come in. So we heard up, got outta town, went up to Sam’s Club. We met, they were getting some of us out, and they needed to go to the hospital right then needed to be evacuated.”
At least nine people died, and at least 250 were treated for chlorine exposure. He remembers most of them.
Tony DeLoach – “Tony, very good guy. He lived right down here near where Bradley Station is. I don’t think he ever woke up from the accident. He lived about 150 yards down, probably. Tony wasn’t in the best health anyway.
Mr. Rusty Sheley – He was working down here at Steven Steam Plant, which is behind St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. I think there were one or two more who passed away with him inside there. He couldn’t get out due to bad legs. They’d keep him getting out.
Mr. Mathis was more or less like the curious of us ride around and want to see what was going on. Like a lot. He got died from complications due to it. So that was three people fairly well known. Ten people all total left way too early.”
Two memorials in town honor the victims, including one near where the train stuck put up by a local, Lucille Arthur, a month after the crash. “Ms. Lucille passed away many years now, 16, 17 years and no one’s ever moved the cross. It’s still here at the same spot. We been here all these years. Miss Lucille put it up. Nobody’s touched it. Nobody’s wanted to and that’s good.”
Courts determined the health and environmental damage was worth millions of dollars. Neighbors and the local plant settled lawsuits with Norfolk-Southern. “Nobody got anything that would’ve been worth the inconvenience that caused us, especially the deaths.”
Wise says the community holds no grievances. “The train people, we prayed with ’em, we’ve cried with ’em, and we’ve been to ceremonies with ’em.”
Nearly 20 years later, he says the area took a dip after the cotton mills closed, but it’s resilient. “The people in Granville fought and come back and we’re still coming back. We’ve had Christ Central come to our town. So we’re still fighting every day and we’re gonna get better every day.”