- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

MARTINS CREEK, Pa. (AP) - Some organizations and residents in eastern Pennsylvania are planning a memorial for victims of a cement plant explosion that killed 31 people during World War II.

The March 1942 blast at the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. plant in the Sandts Eddy section of Lower Mount Bethel Township was heard as far away as Camden, New Jersey. Windows were blown out in downtown Allentown.

Officials said at a presentation Thursday that an official cause was never determined, but authorities suspected that unstable blasting caps set off 20 tons of dynamite that had arrived that morning.

“Seventy-three years ago we had a horrible accident at the cement plant,” said Edward Pany, curator of the Atlas Cement Museum. “Nothing has been done to memorialize the men.”

Witnesses described corpses everywhere and body parts hanging from trees. A woman hiking some years later, miles from the plant, found a deteriorated boot containing the ankle bone of one of the victims, Pany said.

Lifelong township resident Tony Lelli, who was in sixth grade at the time, said he saw National Guardsmen filling canvas bags with body parts.

“It was the most horrible day of my life,” Lelli said. “I’ll never forget it.”

The Lower Mount Bethel Civic Association, along with the Hunter-Martin Settlement Museum and the Atlas Cement Museum in Northampton, are trying to raise $5,000 for a granite memorial listing the names of the men who died. An appropriate location for the memorial is still being discussed.

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