13 August 2015

Historic Explosions

28 Menachem Av 5775

Today's news includes reports of a massive chemical explosion at a warehouse in China. The latest count is 50 dead and approximately 700 injured.



However bad it was though, it wasn't the first and it wasn't the worst. It immediately reminded me of another disasterous explosion that I heard about while growing up along the Texas Gulf Coast...

The Texas City disaster was an industrial accident that occurred April 16, 1947, in the Port of Texas City. It was the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the port), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (approximately 2,100 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate detonated, with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department. The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.

And even that wasn't the first or the worst. I remember seeing a movie about a still greater explosive disaster that took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada...

The Halifax Explosion was a disaster that occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship fully loaded with wartime explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. A fire on board the French ship ignited her cargo, causing a cataclysmic explosion that devastated the Richmond District of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, and collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured.

Mont-Blanc was under orders from the French government to carry her highly explosive cargo from New York via Halifax to Bordeaux, France. At roughly 8:45 am, she collided at slow speed, approximately one knot (1 to 1.5 miles per hour or 1.6 to 2.4 kilometres per hour), with the cargoless Imo, chartered by the Commission for Relief in Belgium to pick up a cargo of relief supplies in New York. The resulting fire aboard the French ship quickly grew out of control. Approximately 20 minutes later (at 9:04:35 am), Mont-Blanc exploded with tremendous force. The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons, releasing the equivalent energy of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT.


Nearly all structures within a half-mile (800 m) radius, including the entire community of Richmond, were obliterated. A pressure wave of air snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and carried fragments of the Mont-Blanc for kilometres. Hardly a window in the city proper survived the concussion. Across the harbour, in Dartmouth, there was also widespread damage. A tsunami created by the blast wiped out the community of Mi'kmaq First Nations people that had lived in the Tuft's Cove area for generations.


For more information on this subject see also: Top 10 Greatest Explosions Ever