"There was no warning, no signs," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "It all happened very abruptly."
Exposed pipes could be seen spewing liquid believed to be ammonia. The ammonia leaks, together with a fire further hampered rescue and recovery efforts.
Police at the scene told CNN that there were more than 300 people inside the ConAgra plant, which makes Slim Jim beef jerky among other food products, when the explosion occurred yesterday. The cause of the explosion is as yet unknown, but the force of the explosion caused sections of the roof to collapse.
About 38 people were transported to area hospitals with undetermined injuries.
While there have been two confirmed dead, search officials were trying in vain to recover the bodies in substantial rubble, not to mention the ongoing search for a third person who is reported to be missing. The fate of that person is not known. Rescuers are hoping to find the person alive.
A news conference last night revealed that the search efforts are slow given some of the tight spaces involved, the amounts of rubble and the fact that the building, following the explosion, is described by authorities as "very unstable."
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An eyewitness of the explosion told CNN that she heard what sounded like a "boom" as she toiled inside the plant. Gail Ruffin, one of the 300-plus workers in the plant at the time of the explosion, told CNN affiliate WRAL that the ceiling started to come down, "and we all started running.
"Everyone was trying to get to the exit door. ... I was just trying to get out, and then we just [saw] people that [were] burned -- blood all over them."
The investigation contrinues as to the cause of the explosion, and the identity of the two known dead. The missing person's identity, condition and whereabouts remains a mystery at this hour.