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Wednesday, September 03, 2003
1939: Britain (& therefore Australia) declares war on Germany. More modern casualties...
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Features: The Environment

Hamlet: the Untold Tragedy

(Written and produced by Robert Cotter and Maureen Costello)
(From Winter 1995)

"Two Filmmakers Look At The Fire That Devastated This Small Town"
by Nano Riley

... black people couldn't work in factories until the 1970. "It was better than working in the fields, but there were no unions," Ada Blanchard tells ... "The doors (at the Imperial Food chicken processing plant) were kept locked, and the plant had boarded-up windows so we couldn't steal the chicken," adds another worker, Conessta Williams. "They never put up a fence or hired a security guard. But (no one) would want to steal that chicken," she continues. "When you eat chicken, you don't know what you're eating."

Much of the chicken at Imperial Food Products , where both women worked, was rotten, Williams explains, so the chicken parts were breaded, fried and prepared for their major buyers — fast food restaurants and the federal school lunch programs ...

The plant was visited daily by the poultry inspector, who knew the plant doors were regularly locked in violation of safety codes, a violation that was never reported. In fact, the Imperial Food plant had already experienced three fire flare-ups earlier that year, but despite obvious danger, fire exits remained locked.

The morning of September 3, 1991, workers at the plant in Hamlet, North Carolina ... were rapidly engulfed in thick, yellow smoke, an acrid combination of melting insulation and burning soybean oil and chicken, ...

Twenty-five workers died in the tragic fire, one of the worst disasters of its kind, reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1912 New York City, where many seamstresses leapt to their deaths because stairway doors were locked ...
Besides the fire-related deaths, 56 workers were injured in the fire with severe burns, blindness, respiratory disease from smoke inhalation, neurological and brain damage ... Nineteen of the 25 workers killed were single mothers.

The plant had not had a safety inspection in 11 years. "It no sprinklers and lots of asbestos."

Less than two years after the deadly fire, insurance companies and the business lobby in North Carolina got together and introduced legislation to slash compensation for injured workers.

Hamlet: Out of the Ashes, a 20-minute educational version of the film, is presently on tour, along with a traveling museum exhibit from Harvard University entitled Women of Courage. Woven throughout both the short and full-length versions of the film is a hauntingly beautiful tune, "Naima," by jazz musician and Hamlet native John Coltrane.
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 / . Lives in Australia/New South Wales/Sydney, speaks English. Eye color is hazel. I am what my mother calls unique. My interests are photography, reading, natural history/land use, town planning, sustainability.

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Australia, New South Wales, Sydney, English, photography, reading, natural history, land use, town planning, sustainability.