Incident Photo of The Week – S.S. Grandcamp Explosion

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On April 16, 1947, the Liberty ship, S.S. Grandcamp exploded dockside in the port at Texas City, Texas.  The blast and the fires that followed killed about 600 people and injure 3,500 more. It remains the deadliest explosion and worst industrial disaster in U.S. history.

The following is a summary from the Texas City Disaster Report that was put out on April 29, 1947.

A fire discovered by stevedores preparing to resume loading of ammonium nitrate aboard the S. S. GRANDCAMP at Warehouse (Pier) “O”, about 8 A. M., April 16, 1947, resulted in the first of two disastrous explosions at 9:12 A. M., April 16, 1947 which destroyed the entire dock area, numerous oil tanks, the Monsanto Chemical Company, numerous dwellings and business buildings. The second explosion resulted from a fire in ammonium nitrate aboard the S. S. HIGH FLYER which occurred some sixteen hours later at 1:10 A. M., April 17, 1947.

Damage to property outside the dock area was widespread. Approximately 1000 residences and business buildings suffered either major structural damage or were totally destroyed. Practically every window exposed to the blast in the corporate limits was broken. Several plate glass windows as far away as Galveston (10 miles) were shattered. Flying steel fragments and portions of the cargo were found 13,000 feet distant. A great number of balls of sisal twine, many afire, were blown over the area like torches. Numerous oil tanks were penetrated by flying steel or were crushed by the blast wave which followed the explosions. Drill stems 30 feet long, 6 3/8 inches in diameter, weight 2700 pounds, part of the cargo of the S. S. GRANDCAMP were found buried 6 feet in the clay soil a distance of 13,000 feet from the point of the explosion.

Only brief mention is made of the fire protection features such as automatic sprinkler systems and the fire department. The initial explosion disrupted the sprinkler systems and the water supply to them, destroying all of the fire equipment owned by Texas City and wiped out much of the personnel of the department who were endeavoring to extinguish the fire aboard the S. S. GRANDCAMP.

The loss of life was high. All firemen and practically all spectators on their pier were killed as were many employees in the Monsanto Chemical Company and throughout the dock area. At this date, April 29, 1947, 433 bodies have been recovered and approximately 135 (many of whom were on the dock) are missing. Over 2000 suffered injuries in varying degrees, among whom were many school children injured by flying glass fragments and debris in school buildings located about 6000 feet distant.

The loss of property excluding marine (which was not ascertainable) is estimated to be $35,000,000 to $40,000,000. Time for rebuilding the various docks, warehouses and the chemical plant is expected to take one to two years.

A good description of the events, the full disaster report, and links to various other resources can be found at HERE