Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
KNPR's State of Nevada About SON Archives Participate Specials

PEPCON Remembered
PEPCON Remembered

AIR DATE: May 13, 2013

On May 4th, 1988 hundreds of people living in Henderson felt the ground move and heard windows shatter. There was a shockwave of 3.5 on the Richter scale. But it wasn't an earthquake. It was an explosion equal to one kiloton of TNT -- it was the explosion at the PEPCON plant. The plant produced ammonium perchlorate, or rocket fuel, that exploded when a fire broke out. We'll hear stories from people who were there. And we want to hear from you, if you were living in the valley on that disastrous day. 

Captain Bobby McBride, Clark County Fire
Captain Greg Fitzgerald, Clark County Fire
retired Captain Don Griffey, Henderson Fire
    comments powered by Disqus
    I had walked my customers out the front door of my office at Green Valley Parkway and Sunset when the blast went off. I saw the plume of smoke and realized that the blast would have a "sunami" wave of as I turned my back to the plume of smoke.... I was knocked down on one knee...and the blast spread out. I guessed that a plane had seemed likely given the flight path. The ceiling tiles came down in my office and the traffic began to become agitated. I closed the office and sent people home...but the traffic began to get even more erratic on Green Valley Parkway. People were driving up over the curbs onto the sidewalk...and it was clear that some sort of havoc had begun. I was able to get out of the parking lot and managed to go pick up my preschool son. I decided to leave Green Valley and go to the west side of town to evaluate the situation. We stayed at the office of a friend who was called out with the search and rescue team. It was a very long day before we got back to our home in Green Valley later that evening. Luckily the only real damage we had was a blown out garage door.
    Breese Rusk GlennonMay 24, 2013 21:51:46 PM
    I was sitting in my office (Howard Electrical and Mech)on Industrial Road. We had a crew on the top floor of the Hilton doing a remodel and I had the jobsite radio on my desk. Over the radio I hear "Look at that explosion, must have been a rail car in Henderson". Than some chatter, than quiet, than "My God did you see the size of that explosion?" Another voice "Do you think the building will shake when the concussion wave hits?" Do not remember much else everything got kind of crazy with electricians who lived in Henderson leaving work to find family and check on their home's. Doug Nance
    Doug NanceMay 19, 2013 09:03:58 AM
    We were in Las Vegas from out of town. We were visiting friends that were working at the Desert Inn. We were in the casino when we heard the explosion. It seemed the ceiling dropped 6 inches or so and dust drifted down onto the games and the players.It was early and there weren't many players in the place. I saw several men dive under a dice game. Our friend thought a plane crashed at McCarren
    Mike May 16, 2013 21:41:48 PM
    I was in my office at the Nevada State Museum & Historical Society, then in Lorenzi Park.I heard a monstrous thunderclap and didn't really find out what had happened until later. The shock waves cracked the office windows - at a 10 to 12 mile distance!
    Art WolfMay 16, 2013 06:06:58 AM
    Washing dishes in my apartment at Sahara & Nellis, my 5 month old son asleep. Tremendous explosion and the shock wave almost knocked me off my feet even that far away from the site. Frightened for my baby, didn't know whether to go outside or stay inside. Saw other residents outside so grabbed my son and went out. Saw an enormous column of smoke rising and knew that something very serious had happened. The last time I saw something like that was from a jet crashing right after takeoff.
    Diane WintonMay 15, 2013 20:55:17 PM
    I worked for a plumbing company at the time. When Pepcon blew up I was in a sewer manhole at the corner of Koval Ln and Tropicana. It shook the ground enough that I thought a plane had crashed at the airport, and when I popped my head up above ground lever, I was sure of it. Looking southeast,across the airport, I could see the giant cloud growing.
    Jeff MallyMay 15, 2013 18:20:00 PM
    I was stopped at a red light at Decatur and Sahara in a Pontiac sedan when the second blast went off. I could see the smoke rising off to the southeast but didn't know if it was a hotel on fire or how far away it was coming from. The concussion shook my car as if I were in a small earthquake almost 17 miles across the valley. In fact, the explosion measured at 3.4 on the Richter scale.
    Dal AndersonMay 15, 2013 17:52:52 PM
    Our home is about ten miles from Where Pepcon used to be. I had a home daycare at the time and was making Mother's Day gifts with the children. A friend, who also had a home daycare, had joined us for the activity with her children, bringing the total to 12 small children. Luckily my windows and back door were opened when the blast hit. Our home had minor damage, however when my friend returned home she found al of her windows had broken. Shards of glass had shredded a play tent in her playroom. If she had been home there is no question that her children would have been seriously hurt.
    Patty EllsworthMay 15, 2013 16:06:30 PM
    My son and I were westbound on US95 between Eastern and downtown. I was driving my 1965 Dodge van with a 12' mesh satellite dish strapped to the roof. We felt a rush of wind from the south which caused me to change lanes unexpectedly. I looked to my left and saw the plume of smoke rising in the distance. We weren't sure if it was a casino or building that had exploded. When we got back to our shop on west Spring Mountain, found some items had been knock off shelves. That day is added to my short list of 'where I was when.....'.
    Paul RompelMay 15, 2013 15:49:32 PM
    I was headed to lunch from my office at 145 Panama Street in downtown Henderson when the first explosion occurred. The State Welfare Division had a staff of about 50 there and everyone froze. There was another explosion and our big glass windows and glass front door shattered and blew in. Some of the panels of the suspended ceiling dropped and dust was every where. We went outside and from our elevated location could see the fire and huge plume of smoke coming from the factory area. We though the worst. Confusion followed. Staff wanted to get home to their families and we needed to secure the office somehow. The firemen and policemen who passed by couldn't help. One said to stay inside because the air might be poisoned. Another said to get outside in case another explosion blew up our building. After a bit, we let the staff go and many had a hard time reaching their homes. I stayed in the office and got a phone call from and was interviewed by CNN! About 7 pm the building owner --Jim Tenney, bless him -- arrived in a pickup truck loaded with building materials.
    PAULA PETRUSOMay 15, 2013 15:13:05 PM
    I was 12 miles away at my desk in a hotel on the strip when my assistant looked out the window (toward the southeast) and said, "what the h..." Before I could look, I was knocked off my chair and quickly looked out the window to see a second, larger plume going up. We held on, but some windows on our floor blew in. Suddenly, all the executives were there looking out the window. Thought it was a plane crash, but when one of our coworkers saw where it was, she screamed her daughter's name and took off. She lived near there and her daughter went to school in downtown Henderson area. Strange, unforgetable day!
    Tina StergiosMay 15, 2013 15:01:23 PM
    I had just arrived in Washington, DC for a meeting the day of the explosion and had turned the TV to CNN while I unpacked. As I watched a shot of the fire in the desert the announcer made a comment about having to duck after seeing the flash of an explosion because of the shock wave. I made a comment to the person I was meeting with that the voice of the announcer sounded just like Gary Wadell from Las Vegas. Imagine my surprise when moments later I learned the truth my remark.
    Bill RedingerMay 15, 2013 14:06:39 PM
    I lived near the LV Hilton & was on the 3rd floor of my condo when the plant blew up. I thought a jet from Nellis had flown by and gone to Mach 1; there was a thunderous BOOM and the whole building shook. I owned a small business that was located on Sunset Rd. The plate glass window blew in, embedding giant chunks of glass in the opposite wall. In the storage facility behind the building, all of the interior walls collapsed. The whole town was in chaos. We didn't have cell phones or Internet back then, the phone lines were quickly over loaded. I couldn't make a phone call or drive to Henderson. It was so frightening!!! I didn't have my son then, but when I did, I made sure his daycare was close to where I worked so if something crazy like that happened I would be able to walk to get him. The psychological impact on me was that great.
    Lori BosleyMay 13, 2013 09:34:39 AM
    Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.