KINGSPORT — Initially, Miranda Wood thought someone had crashed a vehicle into Johnny's Shoe Store on Eastman Road where she was working Wednesday morning, just a stone's throw from the Eastman Chemical Co, plant.
In fact, the plant had been shaken Wednesday morning by explosions in the gasification area that were described by Eastman as "process upsets."
When Wood realized what had really happened, she was quite upset indeed.
"I heard two explosions, but it really sounded like somebody just hit the (Johnny’s) building," Wood said. "My whole chair really did shake. ... As I came downstairs, it did smell like something was burning."
Then she and other employees saw the plumes of smoke rising from the Eastman plant and they realized something serious had happened.
“You better hold your breath,” she added.
"It was alarming," Wood said. " We still aren't sure if it's toxic or anything like that, so that's our main concern. ... And then we heard all the sirens coming through. We just hoped that everybody over there was OK. I'm trying to stay inside so I don't have to breathe it. They (customers) were concerned, like we were, about the air they were breathing and making sure everybody was OK.”
Wood added, "I also live next door, so I'm like, double whammy. If anyone was to (attack) the plant, I've always wondered about that, especially with the mass shootings that have happened lately. Our world is a little bit crazy."
Also in the shadow of the Eastman plant not far from Johnny's is Sloopy's Diner.
Sloopy's manager Matt Herndon is one of the few people within a 5-mile radius of the plant who didn't hear or feel the explosions.
He was busy working the grill with fans, the fryer and the radio blasting.
What he did feel was the effect on his cash register when 70 percent of his customers were either evacuated or on lockdown inside the plant.
"We spoke to a couple of employees from Eastman who said there was an explosion and they weren't going to be able to come pick up their orders," Herndon said. "So we had to cancel some orders. It's cut our business more than 50 percent, at least. It's been a pretty big hit to the point we may even close early today. On average we do at least $1,100 every morning. (As of 1 p.m.) we haven't even done $300 all day so far."
Herndon added, "I had the fryer going, music going, grill going, so I didn't hear anything. I live two blocks from here, and when the Eastman guy told me I messaged my girlfriend to make sure her and my kid were OK. She took a picture from my window, and you can see the mushroom cloud and black smoke. I didn't hear anything and I'm right here. I could literally throw a rock and hit Eastman."
Sloopy's employee Sierra Bowman was sitting in her car reading and smoking before the start of her shift when she heard the first big boom.
"I thought it was a dump truck back here that just dropped a Dumpster down," she said. "And then I heard it a second time. ... My mom texted me and asked me if I was OK. I was like, what do you mean. She said there was an explosion at Eastman, and then I seen black smoke and a big mushroom cloud over there."
Bowman wasn't worried. She said she breathes Eastman fumes every day.
"If I'd seen all kinds of ambulances, police and fire trucks, then I would have been freaking out," she said. "I really just thought it was a dump truck back here (behind Sloopy's)."