The beach facilities at Qurrayah that were being constructed by the company for Abqaiq and Udhailiyah residents were not completed yet, but a site had been established north of the Seawater Plant. Our friend, Jack Hayes, who lived on the Construction Barge there, said he had been working on the site by bulldozing huge amounts of sand onto the beach itself and into the water. It seems that it wasn't an ideal, natural, smooth, sandy beach area, and a lot of rocks were scattered in the water, too many to remove. But it was going to be ours, Abqaiq's, our own private, fenced in, guarded beach, so we were excited and thrilled at the prospect. Our sorority had planned a group picnic there for all our members and families for Friday, May 6th, 1977.
We gathered first in Abqaiq at the Steindorf's, then drove in a convoy the 30 some miles to the water's edge. There were no picnic tables or permanent grills yet, but we had gotten some beach umbrellas and folding chairs from the Recreation Office and took our own grills, ice chests, blankets, food and cold drinks. So we swam, waded, looked for sea shells, sunned, grilled burgers and hot dogs, ate and drank the afternoon away. We all thought we had died and gone to heaven, enjoying this first time happening at our very own Qurrayah Beach in Saudi Arabia.
On the way back to Abqaiq later, we stopped to climb the huge sand dunes that we had discovered before. It gave us an idea for another sorority picnic later on. A very productive and enjoyable outing.
The following Sunday, May 8th, 1977, was Mother's Day. Sharon and Jim Morris were back in Arabia on business, but were staying with another Santé Fe family in Mansour Camp. But she came to my house that morning to go to the Women's Club Mother's Day Brunch with me that was in the East Lounge of our Recreation Building.
Afterward, she went back to Mansour, and I worked around the house for awhile, then went to the Post Office, the Commissary, then to Kathi's. We decided to go to my house, but stopped to pick up Jeanine on the way, so Oran was home from work when we got there. Oran fixed all us "mothers" a drink, and after they left, took me to the Dining Hall for dinner. They always fixed something special on that night.
I had plans to go to a sorority executive board meeting Monday night, but Sharon and Jim Morris came by after he got off work. We decided to get Mexican food from Marill, so they ended up eating dinner and spending the evening with us. It was a nice get together. Sharon and Jim loved Mexican food, too. In fact, she had cooked a lot of it for us when she had lived in Arabia, and had made the only real, home-made tamales I had ever eaten over there – delicious.
Tuesday was a lazy day. I went to the Dining Hall for breakfast with Estella, then to the Commissary and the pool. We ate lunch in the Snack Bar, as well. The next few days wouldn't be so uneventful.
On Wednesday, May 11th, 1977, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a big explosion was heard, and right after that the disaster whistle started blowing. Everyone ran out of whatever building they were in and looked toward the Abqaiq Plants, located to the south, adjacent to our camp, and just across a road and tall chain link fence. Sure enough, huge, red flames and dense black smoke were billowing up into the sky. It was a very scary sight, especially so close to our homes. Oran happened to be home early that day, so he and all the other men in camp jumped in their pickups and drove to their Departmental Offices to await orders to help with the disaster.
Everyone else watched and wondered just what would happen. We talked of a possible evacuation, which would have to take place out the back gate, as the Main Gate was just beside the plant itself. I got my camera and started walking cautiously toward the Recreation Building a block away, but closer to the plant. Others had their cameras, as well. A number of secondary explosions continued to add to the firey holocaust, but I continued, as did others, my walk toward the plant, taking pictures all along the way.
When I reached the center of the patio of the Recreation Building, I got one picture just as another explosion sent a huge, round ball of fire skyward. By this time, it looked like the entire plant was involved. I talked to Gary Clark, a sorority member's husband and President of the A.E.A., who told me I had better be careful because security had started going through camp, taking peoples cameras away from them. So, I put my camera in my purse, and just stood around watching the fire visiting with everyone else, who were doing the same thing. Then I slowly walked back home, in case there was an evacuation order. Later, Gary did have his camera confiscated. He didn't take his own advice.
Eventually, the husbands came home and Oran told me that things seemed to be under control, and the fire was diminishing, so we wouldn't be evacuating. It seems that a few very brave men, including Chris DeSantis, who knew the plant like the back of his hand, had gotten to some valves and shut off the flow of oil from all the fields that piped into the Abqaiq Plants. Basically its function was, and still is, to gather crude oil from all Southern Area Oil Fields, stabilize it, then pump it on to the Ras Tanura Refinery. Fortunately no one was hurt badly, though that was hard to believe from the sight of it.
It was hard to settle down after that, but the next morning, Thursday, Marge and Marvin Williams drove up from Udhailiyah, as they had already planned. We had been telling them about the Qurrayah Beach outings, so they were anxious to see that, and now the fire as well. Black smoke and some flames still continued to be seen and the smoke filled the sky and hung over the camp.
We had breakfast in the Dining Hall with the Adams, then all went to the beach at 3 o'clock. It was really nice again. We cooked hot dogs, swam, sunned and walked along the beach. We could see the Sea Water area and Construction Barge in the distance, but it was separated from our beach by a fence now.
At sundown, we packed up everything and started back to Abqaiq. Oran got off the regular road a bit and temporarily got stuck in the sand at one point, but everything turned out all right.
The Williams stayed with us that night, so we went back to the Dining Hall for breakfast the next morning before they left to drive back to Udhailiyah. That was Friday, May 13th, 1977. Oran was off that day, but he had a call from Mubarraz about some problem at his job site there, so decided to drive down there to check on it. Everyone was being especially cautious after the fire.
I went to the pool for awhile, but then just went back home, rested and relaxed until Oran got back in camp.
That evening we went to the Adams for grilled ribs. Then everybody went to bed, but in the middle of that night there was another huge explosion that shook our houses. We jumped out of bed, grabbed a robe, and ran outside, along with everyone else in camp. To the man, we all looked toward the plant, expecting to see more huge flames leaping skyward and smoke billowing from it, but there was none. So everyone was puzzled, but the men all jumped in their pickups and drove to their Departmental Offices again, while we women just waited and wondered. My phone rang, and when I answered it, Guy Smyth, who lived in Dhahran then, asked if we were all right and what had happened. He said they felt the repercussions from whatever it was, as well. But I couldn't give him an answer right then, except to tell him it was not the Abqaiq Plants again, but whatever it was, it had scared the hell out of everyone there.
Later Oran came back home and said this explosion had been at a GOSP (Gas, Oil Separation Plant) located between Abqaiq and Dhahran. It was closer to Abqaiq, but close enough to be felt in Dhahran, as well. Two Arab men had been killed there. We were beginning to wonder what was going on. What a Friday the 13th that had been.
Later, after inspections and analysis, it was decided that all the equipment in all the plant facilities in that area was getting so old it wasn't safe anymore, so the company started replacing everything. A lot of men started working 12 hour shifts every day or night to do that, but it would take a long time.
Saturday, May 14th, was a holiday, so Oran was home that day. I fixed us a big breakfast, then we went to the open market in Madinat with the Adams, but it was too hot to enjoy, so we drove back to the Suqs, where they had some air conditioned stores, at least, to shop in.
That afternoon we went to the pool for a couple of hours, and later ate in the Dining Hall before going to the movie. With the close censorship, our movies usually left something to be desired, and that one was no exception, so we left before it was even over, went to the Post Office, then home to bed.
The next day, Oran received word that his older brother, Charlie, had passed away, and the company offered to send him home on emergency leave. As he had been like a father figure to him since their own father had passed away when Oran was a very young man, and since he hadn't gone home when his sister, Mattie Attaway, passed away, he decided to go. So the next couple of days were spent getting him ready for the trip. I didn't go with him as the company would only send him.
He left Tuesday morning, May 17th, 1977, at 5 o'clock to go to the Dhahran Airport to catch a plane to the United States. So here I was, left on my own in Arabia for a little while again. I felt perfectly safe in our camps, and there was no lack of things to do. Most of my time was spent with Estella, going to breakfast and the pool.
On Wednesday night I went to a performance and dance by a group called "Vogues" with Estella, Avonie, and their group. Some of our group were on vacation, and the Kings were leaving May 24th. I went to their house, then to the Dining Hall to eat with them the night before they left.
Sheila and Keith Kaul got back from their vacation to Canada the same day the Kings left. Then Oran returned the very next night, Wednesday, May 25th, 1977, about 11:30 p.m. So our lives got back to normal again as soon as he got over the jet lag, and it was good to have him back. He was able to be with Keith and Vicky also, while he was home, so we felt good about that. This time he brought back a new, current popular record called, "Lucille," by an up and coming new Country Western singer, Kenny Rogers.
The next week went pretty much the same as usual until Wednesday. I went to the Dining Hall with Estella, as usual, but then had to talk to Dagh, the Arab in charge of food there, about last minute details for the Bowling Banquet they were catering the next night. As Secretary-Treasurer of the league, I was on the committee to help handle that and other things, including going to the Cash Office to withdraw the necessary funds for the food and the band.
That evening we went to the Steindorf’s along with the Kauls and the Adams, before going back to the Dining Hall to eat. The Adams left the next morning, Thursday, June 2nd, 1977, on their vacation.
After breakfast, we met the Casparas' and Love's at the Golf Club House to decorate for the banquet. Finishing that, we even had time to go to the pool for awhile and nap before Oran drove me back to the Club House at 5:30. He went to the Ice Plant to pick up and deliver the ice before going back to the house to dress and returning at 7. Everyone else started arriving shortly after that, and the Bowling Banquet and Dance was under way.
There was a good crowd and most everything went all right, except I was uptight because I was involved with the responsibility for it all. When it was all over, I vowed not to be a league officer again.
Friday morning I didn't feel well, so I just stayed in bed until Jack Hayes and a friend came by unexpectedly. He had just returned from vacation, so we got up and visited awhile. When they left, I went back to bed until eleven when Ken Casparas called to say I hadn't given him enough money for the band the night before, so I took some more over to him. I was embarrassed and even more resolved that I would never let myself get involved with anything like that again.
When I got back home I cooked breakfast for us, then went back to bed for awhile. The night before had really taken its toll on me.
Later the Kauls came by to visit, but by that time I was doing much better, and it was a pleasant distraction.
That night we went to dinner at the Steindorf's at 5 o'clock and met Kathi and Ruth's boss, Joe Fisher. Kathi and Ruth had both gone to work in the offices of the new Construction Camp that had been built right outside Abqaiq, on the main road to Dhahran. They were picked up each morning and driven there and back each afternoon, as women were not allowed to drive outside Abqaiq Camp itself. Jeanine and Sheila had both gone to work for Community Maintenance, and I was wondering if I should consider it myself, but just wasn't ready to make that commitment yet.
I went to breakfast with Estella the next morning, Saturday, June 4th, 1977. Pensi Pate joined us. Afterward we went to the Post Office and Commissary, as usual. Then at 11 o'clock there was another explosion and fire in the Abqaiq Plants, another blast from the disaster whistle, and another wait to see what would happen. They were just beginning to get things back in shape from the first one. In between there had been several small fires they didn't even blow the disaster whistle for, and now this, so they had to practically start over again. As it turned out, it was a bit smaller than the first, but more costly – four Arab men died this time.
After that everyone tried to relax and get back to normal again. Kathi got off work early and came to my house at 2 o'clock. Ruth joined us for awhile, and they told me all about their work in the Construction Camp and how much they liked it. When Oran got home from work, we went to the pool, then sat on our porch and had Mexican food for dinner.
The next day Oran didn't have to go to Mubarraz because everything in the southern area was shut down because of the fire.