What happened the day of the Pine Belt nuclear test?

Published: Apr. 30, 2012 at 7:56 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 30, 2012 at 8:12 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - At 10 a.m. on October 22, 1964, the United States government detonated a nuclear device 2,700 feet below Salmon Nuclear Test Site in Lamar County.

"It felt like an earthquake; you could feel the shock waves for about five seconds and it could just about knock you off your feet," said Kevin Saul, who was 7-years-old when he felt the explosion.

The blast deep in the earth was felt more than 30 miles away: three separate shocks, residents said the soil rose and fell like an ocean wave.

"There was basically a loud thump," says historian David A. Burke. "A cloud of dust came up, and there was a ground ripple that was noticeable."

Lois Sumrall was at grammar school 30 miles away in Sumrall that morning. "We were taught to do the drills in the school," said Sumrall. "We just got in the hall and put our heads down."

With a risk of contamination. The United States government evacuated hundreds of residents within a 1.6 mile radius; they paid 10 dollars a day for adults evacuating, and five dollars a day for children. The Atomic Energy Commission contracted companies to shore up homes to prevent damage in the days before the blast.

A famous photo shows Saul's mother and siblings outside their home, after the contractors reinforced their chimney.

"It actually moved our chimney about six inches away from the house and caved in the water well," said Saul. "(The government) had to replace our water well and rework our house some after the blast."

The nearby towns of Lumberton and Baxterville were evacuated and folks returned after several hours – and in some cases days - to damaged homes.

"There was one man's home who had the contents of the refrigerator thrown all over his floor, his chimney was knocked down, his house was rendered uninhabitable," said Burke.

"I think when I got home from school and saw my parents' reaction…when I realized that my parents were concerned that the blast was significant enough that it did crack the sheet rock in our house," said Sumrall, "I think that's when I got scared, like 'Oh my goodness."

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