AIKEN — Porter Walker remembers watching television in his Graniteville home the morning of Jan. 6, 2005, when he heard what sounded like “the world coming to an end.”
He was up late checking basketball scores when he heard a crash about the length of three football fields from his home on Aiken Road. What he heard was a 42-car Norfolk Southern Corp. train crashing into two engines and two rail cars parked on a spur line near Marshall and Canal streets.
“It sounded like an explosion,” Walker said. “It was one of the loudest noises I’ve ever heard.”
Ten years after the accident, which led to many job losses, Walker said it’s time for Graniteville to rise from the ashes.
“Our hope is that we can kick this chlorine spill in the backside,” said the 66-year-old, who lost his job at the old Hickman Plant after the train wreck.
Walker was among the crowd of about 100 people at the University of South Carolina Aiken’s Student Activity Center on Saturday for the 10th annual Train Derailment Memorial Program, presented by Bethlehem Baptist Church and the Graniteville Community Coalition.
This year’s theme was “Celebrating Recovery, Moving Forward,” and officials engaged attendees in conversation about how the community should move forward a decade after it was set back.
Before the program, which honored friends and families of the nine people who perished in the accident, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared their vision of the Graniteville Brownfield Project, which aims to improve community health in the wake of the disaster.
“Now is the perfect time with getting the community engaged in that process,” said project Chairman John Vena, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. “It gives them hope in further recovery.”
Anne Fulcher, a community coordinator for the brownfield project, said she aims to build back relationships with businesses and to reach out to active members of the community to buy into the project’s goals.
On Saturday, she shared her visions of a Graniteville dotted with parks and gardens.
“Those things produce happiness, and when people in the community engage in these projects, they become stakeholders in it,” she said. “They can see what their hard work can accomplish.”
That message carried over into the memorial program, where the featured speaker, state Rep. Harold Mitchell Jr., shared a success story from his hometown of Spartanburg, S.C., where brownfield projects have thrived.
“I think you’re going to come back here in the next 10 years and really have something to celebrate,” he said.
No matter the growth of the local community, speaker Clem Brown said, Graniteville should never forget the lives lost in 2005.
“We will remember the sacrifices they made, and we will never forget all of those who came to rescue Graniteville,” he said. “So today we look upward and we celebrate because we’re moving forward.”