Local News


Henderson hospital worker remembers PEPCON explosion that shook Las Vegas valley

Posted at 11:23 AM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 20:42:43-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Thirty-four years ago Wednesday, there was a huge explosion in the valley. Anyone who lived here could tell you about PEPCON.

A St. Rose Dominican Hospital worker was a caregiver that day, and a victim. To this day, her memory is as clear as the day it happened.

"And all of a sudden, PEPCON goes off. You felt the movement. You felt the earth move and the building move," said nurse's assistant, Sandra Layton.

It was May 4, 1988. Explosions at the PEPCON plant violently rocked Henderson, and shock waves rolled across the valley.

St. Rose Hospital was so close, the blast blew out the windows. Layton witnessed it while on duty.

"As I'm walking down the hallway at this point in time, as the building is, is shaking and rumbling, I saw the windows. They exploded inward, and people were literally covered in class," said Layton, "so people are running around screaming and hollering."

Some thought the hospital had been bombed, Layton said.

"I said, 'no, it feels more like an earthquake — but this is not just an earthquake,'" she recalled.

PEPCON was one of only two factories in the nation that made ammonium perchlorate — known in layman's terms as rocket fuel.


When it blew, more than 370 people were injured, and the closest hospital was St. Rose Dominican.

"I mean, it was no more than maybe 20 minutes and people were running into the ER, we had all kinds of, you know, it was cuts lots and lots of cuts and, uh, eye abrasions and such," Layton said.

Amazingly, only two people perished in the explosion, but the event paralyzed the city.

Virtually all schools in the district went on lockdown. Traffic was at a standstill, and many were dazed by the shock wave.

"We had to remember that we had to regroup and clean up as much as we could and get the patients settled back into their beds, because a lot of them had pulled their mattresses off the bed and hidden under the mattresses," Layton said.


All that day, first responders worked endlessly. The city was on edge for weeks and damage estimates kept coming in.

"And I think I got home by 8:30 that night and looking at my own damage in my own home was like, oh my, I couldn't believe it," Layton said. "I had a lot of extensive, what they call concussion damage."

Through it all, Layton never forgot her duty.

"That was a interesting day, and it took us quite some time," Layton said. "We had to remember that we had patients there that were already there besides those that were coming in."

To this day, the exact cause of the explosion is unclear.

PEPCON relocated to Utah. The Kidd marshmallow plant next door was flattened and never rebuilt.

Sandra Layton's interview was provided by Dignity Health.