To this day it remains the worst industrial accident in the history of the United States…
The place is Texas City, Texas, the time is April, 1947. A French ship, the Grandcamp, is already loaded with cargo such as oil field machinery, peanuts, and some small arms ammunition. It picked up it last load, some 2300 tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (that’s right folks, the same stuff used in the Oklahoma City bombing) and was getting ready to set sail for Europe.
On the morning of April 14, smoke is seen rising from the decks of the Grandcamp. The Texas City Volunteer Fire Department (all 26 of them) are called to the scene and begin spraying water onto the decks of the ship. The water from the fires hoses is instantly vaporized.
At 9:12 a.m., the first explosion occurs, followed quickly by two others. The force of the blast is felt over 150 miles away and causes seismographs to register. Almost every window in towns located as far as 25 miles away are shattered. Pieces of the ship are sent several thousand feet into the air and two passing planes are blown out the sky. The ships anchor, weighing 1.5 tons, is later found two miles away and embedded 10 feet into the ground. At least 400 people, including the entire volunteer fire department are killed instantly.
Debris from the explosion lands on pipelines and storage tanks causing more destruction and a nearby Monsanto plant is leveled. Other pieces land on homes and people . In addition, the force of the blast (estimated to be more powerful than those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) causes a small tidal wave that tears another ship, the High Flyer from its moorings. The High Flyer is loaded down with 2,000 tons of sulpher and another 961 tons of ammonium nitrate. Sixteen hours later, the High Flyer explodes in a blast stronger than the Grandcamp and disintegrates.
In the end, the death toll
is put at 581 people with over 3,500 injured. Fires burned for over a week and property losses exceed 50 million dollars. While no official cause has ever been attributed to the explosion, it's thought that careless cigarette
smoking was to blame.
As a side note, only about 3 tons of ammonium nitrate were estimated to be used in the Oklahoma City bombing.