Donora nurse remembers trip to seashore with smog victims

By Emma Jene Lelik
For The Valley Independent
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"It was still dark, foggy and dreary when we left Donora that Thursday morning, but soon we arrived in bright sunshine and clean, ocean-swept air," Regina Dougert recalled.

She was talking about the early November trip close to 50 Donora and Webster residents made to Wrightsville Beach, N.C., after the deadly Donora smog 60 years ago.

Dougert was the nurse who accompanied the victims, all in their 60s and 70s, chosen by doctors to be the most affected by the smog and most in need of rest and treatment.

They were invited to spend a week as guests of the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Wilmington and the Chambers of Commerce of Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach after news of the smog drew national attention.

Life magazine covered their departure from Pittsburgh.

"The women were given flowers as we embarked at Bluethental Airport," Dougert said. "About 1,000 people were on hand to greet us as we arrived from a three-hour flight."

Earlier in the week, a DC-3 Capitol Airlines plane was chartered to bring 21 convalescents to North Carolina.

When it was learned 50 victims had already prepared to make the trip, a larger DC-4 was assigned.

A police motorcycle escort led the party to a restaurant in Wilmington for their first meal and later they were taken to Wrightsville Beach, where they were quartered in separate apartments.

The men and women enjoyed a week of planned entertainment, fishing, sun bathing, concerts and movies. They were given free bus passes.

In addition to Dougert, a Wilmington Red Cross nurse and New Hanover County Medical Society personnel were available for the needs of the victims.

National and Pittsburgh news media covered the week's events.

A United Press article in Wilmington reported: "Residents of smog-ridden Donora, where 20 people died recently under the smothering blanket of fog and industrial fumes, are here to begin a free week-long vacation to rest their lungs in the beach salt air."

One of the Donora women was quoted in the paper as saying: "Many are still coughing and feel as though hot pepper was on their hands and faces."

Russell Davis, assistant Donora fire chief, was with the party.

He had worked three nights and four days getting oxygen to smog victims before he collapsed from nervous exhaustion.

The week at the seaside was the idea of the Wilmington Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Regina, a registered nurse and the wife of Dr. John A. Dougert, was in her 20s when she accompanied the group to North Carolina.

The smog occurred in late October 1948.