The PEPCON Explosion's Youngest Victim - 8 News NOW

The PEPCON Explosion's Youngest Victim

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Rebekah Johnson and her mother Loretta Wittig. Rebekah Johnson and her mother Loretta Wittig.

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The ground in southern Nevada shook like never before in 1988 when a chemical plant exploded in Henderson.

PEPCON, the Pacific Engineering & Production Company of Nevada, erupted into a ball of fire. In all, there were seven cataclysmic explosions that rocked the Las Vegas valley, the worst measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale. It was later determined, the fire was sparked by welding. Two people died that day and hundreds were injured including a newborn baby.

"It was like a motion picture in slow motion. All the windows just went flying, and the curtains went flying in. And it was just crazy," said Loretta Wittig.

She had given birth to a baby girl a few hours before the explosions. Sleeping in the hospital nursery was newborn Rebekah Wittig, now Johnson.

"She was born at 7:14 a.m.," Loretta Wittig said. "She was born so beautiful. No problems."

Within hours of her birth, Rebekah was to become the youngest victim of the PEPCON explosion. The powerful blasts shattered windows at St. Rose De Lima Hospital in Henderson.

"We thought an airplane had crashed next to the building," Loretta Wittig said.

Shattered glass hit Rebekah in the face severely cutting her eye. When Loretta first saw her daughter, her head was covered in blood.

"I thought she was dead. I really did."

The newborn was rushed into surgery. Loretta feared her precious baby may be blind in one eye.

"It looked like she didn't have an eye left in her."

Rebekah went under the knife to repair her eyelid and had reconstructive surgery when she was a child.

"It could have been a lot worse," Rebekah Johnson said.

Her vision was not damaged, and 25 years later, scarring isn't even noticeable. Johnson is now a mom to 3-year-old Lizzie, and 1-year-old William.

"It makes me, being a mom now, makes me appreciate my mom even more," she said.

An appreciation gained on the first day of her life.


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