On 16 April 1947, a ship in the Texas City harbour caught fire. The ship, called the Grand Camp, was carrying a cargo of ammonium nitrate fertiliser destined for Europe.
A crowd of people, many of them children, were watching while the fire department tried to put out the fire. Everyone looked fascinated at the bright orange colour coming out of the black smoke. What they did not know was that the bright colour came from the highly explosive chemicals in the cargo.
At 9 a.m. the ship exploded, sending a column of fire 2,000 feet up in the air and killing the many spectators on the peer. Ten seconds later another explosion followed. The second explosion set the neighbouring warehouses and refineries on fire, causing further explosions and the collapse of entire buildings trapping and burying people inside.
This catastrophic event was followed by a small tidal wave, caused by the pressure from the explosion. The wave continued 150 feet inland and destroyed everything on its way.
Practically the entire fire department had died in the explosion, so firemen and ambulance workers from the region flocked to Texas City to help. They had a hard time stopping the fire, the whole industrial area was burning and another explosive cargo ship, The High Flyer, had caught fire.
At 1 a.m., 17 April 1947, the ship was tugged away and 10 minutes later it exploded with even greater force than the Grand Camp. The fires were extremely difficult to put out as the industrial area in Texas City was connected by pipelines.
It took a whole week before the last fires were extinguished and a month before the last body was found. Approximately 600 people died, but the exact death toll will never be known.
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Links and references:
Handbook of Texas online:
Information from PageWise:
Texas City Disaster Report: