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Crowds gather to watch Conway history topple with Grainger smokestacks

Close-up: Grainger demolition from inside blast radius

The Grainger Generating Plant demolition made a bang in Conway on Sunday morning. Get up close and personal with this video provided by Santee Cooper from inside the blast radius.
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The Grainger Generating Plant demolition made a bang in Conway on Sunday morning. Get up close and personal with this video provided by Santee Cooper from inside the blast radius.

A thundering boom ripped through the rain-drenched air at 8 a.m. Sunday as crowds across Conway watched the city’s two tallest landmarks fall into a massive heap of dust and rubble.

Santee Cooper brought down the last relics of Grainger Generating Station’s two, 300-foot-tall stacks in a planned explosion that demolished the last structures of the former power plant. The towering sentinels had stood guard over Conway for 50 years, but environmental regulations had condemned the coal-fired power plant.

The smokestack’s demolition was defined as a “significant symbol of Santee Cooper’s increasing reliance on emissions-free and renewable generation,” in a press release from the company Sunday morning.

2Smokestacks formerly towered over Conway

300Height in feet of each smokestack

330Holes drilled into side of smokestacks

120Pounds of dynamite used

12Estimated time for the fall

A crowd of nearly 150 people bundled in coats and rain parkas, huddling and shivering under umbrellas braved the rain and the cold around the shores of Lake Busbee to witness the moment in history.

A second after the blast, the crowd watched in reverence as the towering chimneys fainted from the city’s skyline.

“It was short, but it was historic,” said Dennis Thompson of Aynor. “We’ve been seeing these towers here for 25, 30 years.”

The 300-foot Grainger stacks fall in a controlled explosion in Conway on Feb.7, 2016.

He pulled into the crowded parking lots around the lake at 7 a.m. The rain and cold had not deterred him.

“My parents took us out to see John F. Kennedy come by in north New Jersey in the freezing cold. This was nothing,” he said with a laugh.

Norwood Lewis of Conway had worked at the power plant for almost 30 years and was at the lake by 6 a.m. to witness the last phase of its destruction.

“It was awesome,” he said, holding his shivering granddaughter who had pleaded with him to bring her so she could see the chimneys fall.

“The stacks were toppled with a series of small, controlled explosions that weakened them at the base, allowing for a controlled fall,” according to the Santee Cooper release. “The event was conducted by Controlled Demolition Inc., a Maryland firm ... Grainger’s buildings and coal conveying equipment had already been dismantled by National Salvage and Service Corp.”

The demolition began last spring. Crews had reduced most of the site to rubble over the last few months.

We got used to seeing them all these years. Most people going to the beach would see the stacks and say we’re getting near the beach. But now – there goes the smokestacks

William Bome of Conway

Within seconds of the blast, residents along U.S. Highway 90 nearly 10 miles away reported hearing the explosion. Out on the lake, the crowd erupted in cheers when the towers fell. But outside The Warehouse in Conway, some witnesses had a more solemn view.

“It was amazing that both of them fell at the same time and it just went like it was in slow motion going down,” said William Bome of Conway.

Bome was a teenager when the stacks were raised for the new Grainger plant 50 years ago. He used to peer at the towering chimneys each day as he ran around Lake Busbee to prepare for his track meets. Now, at the age of 65, Bome stood outside of The Warehouse for one last look as the towering landmarks took a bow and toppled.

The stacks are now “a part of history you’ll never get to see,” he said. “We got used to seeing them all these years. Most people going to the beach would see the stacks and say we’re getting near the beach. But now – there goes the smokestacks.”

View from the Main Street bridge as the Grainger Generating Plant's 300-foot stacks fall. Video by Janet Blackmon Morgan.

“When you were flying and coming in and see those stacks in the air, it was amazing. Then you knew you were close to home,” said Sherry Joyner, who was chatting with friends at The Warehouse Sunday. “It was sad to see them go.”

“It was a great landmark,” Bome added.

Reach Weaver at 843-444-1722 or follow her on Twitter @TSNEmily.

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