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Bastrop Daily Enterprise - Bastrop, LA
  • Buried, but alive

  • Ruth Johnson moved to Bastrop in 1952 where she came to relish her job as a telephone switchboard operator, mostly because she connected soldiers in Korea to families stateside during the war.


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  •   Ruth Johnson moved to Bastrop in 1952 where she came to relish her job as a telephone switchboard operator, mostly because she connected soldiers in Korea to families stateside during the war.
      She expected more of the same one typical but fateful, hot August night. 
      But quick response helped her avoid the crushing blow of a collapsing ceiling and led to rescue of a co-worker, trapped inside the former Southern Bell telephone building just before midnight.
      “I was sitting the farthest away from the door, but I heard a popping noise above me, sounding like hail,” Johnson recalled seeing the high ceiling's corners buckling.
      That's when her instincts kicked in.
      Johnson leaped from her chair, and ran past two co-workers, Mona Burchfield and Dottie Pace, screaming, 'Run!'
      With no air conditioning, industrial fans blew air over blocks of ice in the room – which today would have been located next to First United Methodist Church at Hickory and Washington – causing moisture to soften the ceiling's heavy material.
      Today all three workers, including Pace, who clambered her way out of the debris after the wreckage, live in Bastrop and have remained in touch.
      The emergency six decades ago still resonates with them.
      Johnson's hysterical screams for help quickly recruited assistance from others, including her operating officer, Doris Faison, who lived across the street.
      They crawled in through a window, then located and pulled out Burchfield, buried amid thick rubble, and sent her to the hospital.
      “I thought that the world was coming to an end,” Burchfield recalled this week. 
      She remembers how the ceiling's chunks of plaster ripped her new dress.
      While Johnson said she can “still lay flat on her back and see that ceiling falling,” both ladies said it was not just critical that Johnson had quick feet on Aug. 16, 1953.
      The unforgettable incident's timing was also pivotal.
      If Johnson had not escaped the debris' trappings – a section clipped her leg as she fled – it's uncertain how long the three women would have stayed without help overnight.
      At the same time, if the ceiling had collapsed during the day shift, it would have fallen on at least 20 regular operators, Johnson noted.
      “It was a blessing it happened at night,” she said.

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