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Blasts and Fires Wreck Texas City of 15,000; 300 to 1,200 Dead; Thousands Hurt,

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« on: April 16, 2010, 07:20:34 am »

Blasts and Fires Wreck Texas City of 15,000; 300 to 1,200 Dead; Thousands Hurt, Homeless; Wide Coast Area Rocked, Damage in Millions
SHIP STARTS HAVOC Nitrate Vessel Blows Up and Sets Off Chain of Explosions Ashore BLASTS CONTINUING Injure Many Rescuers - Plant of Monsanto Company Razed
By The Associated Press


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Texas City, Tex., Thursday, April 17 - A chain of explosions set off by the blowing up of a nitrate-laden ship smote this Gulf port yesterday, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. It was the worst American disaster in ten years.

Much of the boom industrial city of 15,000 population was destroyed or damaged. Property loss will run into millions of dollars.

Fires followed the blasts. Poisonous gas from exploding chemicals was reported to be filtering through the area.

Estimates of the fatalities ranged from 1,200 down to 450.

Two new explosions rocked the city at 1 A. M. today, injuring many persons who survived yesterday's disastrous blasts. There were no immediate reports of additional deaths.

John Coldron, reporter for The Beaumont Enterprise, said that another ship had blown up in the harbor. Earlier, the nitrate-loaded freighter, the High Flyer, was reported burning.

Warning of New Blast

W. H. Sandberg, manager of the Texas City Terminal Railways, had said there was an "even chance" that the High Flyer would explode.

Fire fighters from four cities poured streams of water on the vessel. A tug had attempted to pull it away from the dock and into the bay.

At near-by Lamarque, the State Highway Patrol said that one of the explosions was that of an oil tank on the Republic Oil Company's tank farm.

Mayor J. C. Trahan said he knew of 300 dead. G. B. Finley, State Highway Commission official, said at Austin that aides at the scene had indicated the toll would reach 1,200. Wiley Whatley, Houston police sergeant at the scene, estimated that the death total would be between 450 and 500.

Midwestern headquarters of the Red Cross at St. Louis reported that 500 bodies had been brought out of the explosion area late yesterday and that more bodies were being found constantly.

Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright, hero of Bataan, visited the city and said:

"I have never seen a greater tragedy in all my experiences. I have come here to offer this stricken community every facility that the Army can place at its disposal."

He is now Commanding General of the Fourth Army.

Crew of Forty Killed

Mayor Trehan, who wears the Purple Heart for buzz bomb wounds received in Belgium, said that "no buzz bomb could ever compare with what happened here."

"It is such a terrific tragedy that the people have not been able to realize what happened," he added.

The chain of explosions was set off by the blowing up of the French freighter, Grandcamp at 9:12 A.M. yesterday. The ship was obliterated and its crew of forty perished.

The Grandcamp explosion followed a fire that started at about 8:30 A.M., while it was being loaded with nitrate and, The Houston Post said, "possibly with small ammunition."

The Texas City Fire Department seemingly had the fire under control when the explosion came.

The huge war-built plant of the Monsento Chemical Company was virtually destroyed by fire. It was at first reported that the fire was started by an explosion set off by the ship blast. An official of the company said in a wire from St. Louis last night, however, that "there was no explosion within the plant itself."

He was Dan J. Forrestal Jr., assistant director of industrial and public relations for the company, who flew to the scene yesterday afternoon for an investigation. A large proportion of the 500 persons employed by the plant were killed or injured, he said, and more than 100 were unaccounted for.

The blasts rocked the surrounding region for 150 miles.

Mr. Finley said: "Rescue parties bringing out casualties from the blast area estimated that about one out of every three persons had been killed, which would indicate around 1,200 dead."

He referred to the dock area, where the principal damage occurred and where there were about 3,500 persons when the explosions began.

A reporter flying over the scene likened it to bomb destruction of European cities in the recent war. The mushrooming cloud of smoke that arose was described as resembling the aftermath of the atom bombing of Hiroshima.

The first eye-witnesses to move into the area after the explosion saw workers stream from buildings with blood gushing from noses and ears the result of concussion.

"Bodies were tossed about like playing cards," said a reporter for The Houston Chronicle.

Earlier, E. A. Boehler, a Houston policeman, had reported:

"Bodies can be picked up by the dozens in the fire area, but you cannot get in to them."

Relief and rescue workers swarmed into the city from all directions. National Red Cross headquarters in Washington set aside $250,000 for relief work and sent thirty disaster experts to the scene.

It was from records of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in Washington that the disaster was listed as the country's worst, in lives lost, in ten years. The next worst, the Atlantic coast hurricane of September, 1938, took 682 lives.

Tornado Area Sends Aid

It was the second major disaster in Texas within a week. A tornado swept the Panhandle and north-western Oklahoma Wednesday, killing 132 persons in the two states. Relief workers still stationed in the tornado area rushed to the scene of the new calamity, hundreds of miles to the south.

The huge plant of the Monsanto Chemical Company was built in wartime at a cost of $19,000,000 to make styrene, an ingredient of synthetic rubber.

Fires still were raging in the Monsanto plant and fire fighters would hear the screams of some workers trapped inside. Rescue was impossible because of the heat and flames.

Fire fighters wore gas masks, fearing further explosions. Company officials said there were stocks of explosive chemicals in the buildings.

A reporter for the Houston Chronicle who flew over Texas City for an hour after the initial blast said there was a fire on the waterfront, another along the Santa Fe Railroad and a third in a gasoline refinery area. He said there were no fires in the city's business or residential areas.

The reporter gave this picture:

"Fire Trucks were racing up from the south, presumably Galveston.

"The ship which is said to have started the fire could not be seen from Ellington Field, approximately thirty miles sway. It reached 4,000 feet.

"One oil tank, about a thousand feet away from the blaze, was crumpled like a piece of tinfoil.

"Buildings along the Santa Fe Railroad tracks had had the ends blown out. The sides were intact. Pieces of metal could be seen from the air lying at the foot of the building.

"An industrial section close to the bay was afire with the biggest blaze. Smoke was pouring from tanks and buildings.

"A refinery west of the tracks also was burning. Several oil tanks were blazing brightly. A few tanks were crumpled by the force of the blast.

"A heavy cloud of smoke hung over the scene, shot with flashes of flame from the fires that still raged along the waterfront."

Officials of the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation in Texas City said that there were no injuries to employees at the plant, which was undamaged by the explosion.

At New York the Coast Guard said it had reports from its Texas units that as many as 1,000 persons might be dead, and from 2,000 to 3,500 injured.

The National Guard was called out to help control the emergency.

The blasts were so severe that windows were shattered at Galverston, eleven miles across the bay, and plaster was knocked from ceilings there. Many persons there fled Galverston fearing an earthquake.

After the start of the chain of explosions flames raged unchecked because of damage to the water system.

Efforts to estimate the total of dead and injured were made difficult by the chaos and by disrupted communications. Although the telephone union ordered all strikers back on their jobs, lines were damaged and few were operating.

Residents were stunned and stumbled about the debris dazed. Many had burns or cuts from glass and steel and brick hurtled through the air.

The explosion was the worst in Texas history, exceeding even the New London school explosion in 1937 when in 294 school children were killed. It was the second worst disaster in Texas history, being exceeded only by that of the Galveston hurricane in 1900, when 5,000 to 8,0000 fled.

Gov. Beauford H. Jester flew to the area to help direct relief. Rescue workers poured into Texas City from Galveston, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and other cities.

Curious Among Dead

Relief was mobilized so quickly that Capt. Glenn Rose of the state highway patrol said at 2 P.M. that no additional doctors and nurses were needed.

The explosion on the Grandcamp followed a fire which had attracted several hundred curious to the docks to watch the fire fighters. Scores of these onlookers were killed.

W. H. Sanberg, vice president of the Texas City Terminal Railway Company, left the Grandcamp just five minutes before the explosion. He said that the concussion was "simply terrible."

"It blew out windows of every home in town he declared. "It blew in ceilings in business buildings. It cracked new buildings from end to end. Doors were blown from their hinges."

He asserted that the Monsanto plant "doesn't exist any more."

Highways and causeways were blocked by frantic Texas City residents who work in Galverson as they rushed home to help.

Bill Nottingham, a Houston Post photographer who flew over the city, said that it looked as if a flight of B-29 superfortresses had bombed it. A war Air Force veteran, he said he had been on many raids "when we did less damage."

Wide Relief Mobilized

Port Arthur and Orange, 100 miles distant, said the blast was audible and that buildings rocked. At Pelly, 27 miles away, a man said the sound "hurt my eardrums."

Houston sent scores of doctors and nurses, and police and firemen. The state sent its highway patrolmen and disaster experts. The Eighth Naval District headquarters at New Orleans said that the commodore, three doctors and sixteen hospital corpsmen had been sent from the Orange Naval Station and others from the Naval Air Station at Hitchcock, Tex.

Without waiting for a call for help, the Fourth Army at San Antonio swung into action, sending a plane to St. Louis for blood plasma. Other planes were rushed to Fort Worth to get 10,000 blankets. A chemical officer was sent with 500 gas masks from the San Antonio General Depot. Nurses from Ellington Field and two navy nurses were helping the injured in Galveston hospitals.

The Grandcamp, formerly the Benjamin R. Curtis, was built in Los Angeles for the Maritime Commission in 1942 and was sold to the French Line in July, 1946.

Texas City is heavily industrialized and a major Texas shipping center. The world's largest tin smelting plant is located here. Petroleum products form a major share of its industry. Cotton, cotton bagging, sulfur, grain, chemicals and other products pour through its ports. It was a major wartime war center.

Its outer harbor is shard by Galveston. The harbor is 800 feet wide and over five miles long, extending from the Gulf of Mexico between two protective break-waters to Boliver Roads, the terminal of the Texas City, Galverston and Houston ship channels. It also is an intersection of the introcoastal canal.

The city is located on the mainland, across Galveston Bay from Galveston and eleven miles from the Gulf.

In commerce, it reached fourth place in Texas ports, with 3,907 vessels cleared and 13,441,248 net cargo tons moved last year.

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