The RE Store in Bellingham has only had to evacuate it’s store for emergency purposes on a few occasions. Most of them have been due to power outages. The RE Store’s Bellingham Safety Manager, Mike Printup was detailing store evacuation protocols for our staff meeting in late February, 2010 when Marj Leone, our field crew manager, recalled a strange and curious mishap that took place over a decade ago.
On July 2nd, 1999, only 3 weeks after the tragic pipeline explosion that rocked Bellingham, the Georgia-Pacific (G-P) paper mill and chemical refinery on Bellingham’s waterfront had it’s own large explosion. G-P had leaked chlorine gas into downtown Bellingham multiple times over the last 2 decades. A steam generator at the plant burst and injured four G-P employees. The blast blew out windows in downtown. The Old Town Cafe lost all of its large picture windows that faced onto Bellingham Bay and the Georgia-Pacific facility.
Less than a mile away from G-P, The RE Store was still located at it’s former Holly Street site. The sliding front doors were blown off of their tracks by the explosion.
The store manager at the time, Janet Marino, recalls, “The sliding doors flew off their tracks inward and this huge fir school archway that was leaning over the doorway tipped upright, swayed for a minute and came crashing down in the entryway on top of the gumball machine, smashing it. Nate Moore made an announcement that there had been an explosion on the intercom. I ran through the downstairs shouting ‘there has been an explosion, we are evacuating the building’ and someone knocked on the doors of the bathrooms. We locked the doors and went outside and agreed to go to Alice Panny’s house on F street because it was nearest. We waited until we heard from Carl Weimer (executive director at the time) what had happened, that it was safe and we went back. We weren’t gone for all that long.”
As Murphy’s Law would have it, an elderly man who was very hard of hearing had been using the men’s restroom and had not heard any of the staff’s inquiries for stragglers. The gentleman came to the front doors and found himself locked inside the building.
Janet goes on, “He was a little disoriented, I think, and didn’t know about the explosion or anything else after it.”
In the end, the gentleman was safe, downtown survived another industrial accident, and it became yet another odd tale in The RE Store’s colorful history.