Residents ask: ‘How could something like this happen?’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 2, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; For those gathering around tables and in front of televisions at lunchtime Saturday, news of the Columbia explosion cast a pall over an otherwise sunny day.

&uot;It’s a terrible tragedy,&uot; were the only words that would come to Johnny Dale, a Natchez-Adams School Board member who was taking a break from participating in a retreat Saturday morning when he got the news.

Downstairs at Bowie’s Tavern, a crew of young people huddled in front of the TV, watching CNN and waiting for the lunch crowd.

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&uot;They were so young,&uot; said Amanda McMurren, herself a teenager.

&uot;It’s just crazy,&uot; added one of her coworkers, Catherine Smith. &uot;(NASA) is the largest company with the most expensive equipment. How could something like this happen?&uot;

Seventeen years after the Challenger incident, America had gotten to the point where it once again took the safe departure and landing of space shuttles for granted, said Buck Spencer of Baton Rouge, La. &uot;It’s sad to have something like this happen,&uot; said Spencer, whose family was having lunch at Magnolia Grill. As many times as the shuttles have launched and landed safely, he said, &uot;you think the kinks are out of the plan.&uot;

Perhaps it was a sign of the post-Sept. 11 times that Smith and others interviewed Saturday thought the cause of the tragedy might be terrorism.

Stanley Talley of Bogalusa, La., who was eating lunch at Pig Out Inn on his way through town, said that was his first thought as well, &uot;because it was so close to the ground.&uot;

At another table, Jack Leake of Prairie du Chein, Wis. &045; who described himself as still being in shock &045; disagreed, saying that &uot;it (the shuttle) was too high for it to be terrorism.&uot;

Nearby, Pig Out Inn cashier Nolen Coward of Natchez kept his eyes on the television news reports when he wasn’t working the cash register.

&uot;It’s tragic, a horrible thing to have happen,&uot; said Coward, who heard the news from his father earlier Saturday morning.

Across town at Wal-Mart, customers went about their shopping while news reports of the shuttle disaster played on televisions mounted in the aisles.

&uot;It’s a terrible thing to happen, but I don’t think it was terrorism,&uot; said registered nurse Glenda Pollan, of Roxie, who learned about the tragedy Saturday morning from her

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&uot;So many things can go wrong.

You can drive your car 100,000 miles and never have an accident, and then drive 10 miles and have a wreck,&uot; said Charles Wade, who drove in from Ferriday with his wife, Gail, to do some shopping.

Kelly Holmes of Vidalia sat in his truck, shaking his head as he listened to the news on a radio station.

His first reaction was that the Columbia explosion is just the latest in a string of bad news.

&uot;It seems like bad things are destined to happen,&uot; Holmes said.

At the same time, accidents and deaths are bound to happen in something as risky as space flight, and astronauts know that risk, said Ricky Webb of Waynesboro, a customer at Magnolia Grill.

&uot;It’s a chance you take,&uot; said his wife, Marcy Webb.

&uot;And eventually, the odds just catch up with you,&uot; Ricky Webb said.

Hearing the news gave Beverly Roy an especially strange feeling since she and her husband Bob, both of California, had just visited NASA mission control in Houston days before.

&uot;We sat wherever they used to sit,&uot; said Beverly Roy, whose neighbor at the Riverview RV Park in Vidalia told her the news. And, like many others interviewed Saturday, she expressed sympathy for the astronauts’ families.

&uot;My heart goes out to them,&uot; said Roy, who walked into the Magnolia Grill minutes after hearing the news. &uot;Think about it &045; they were just minutes from coming home.&uot;

&uot;I feel so bad for those families,&uot; Spencer said. &uot;It’s the chance of a lifetime, turned into a tragedy.&uot;