TEXAS CITY, TEXAS, DISASTER
April 16, 17, 1947
FIRE PREVENTION AND ENGINEERING BUREAU OF TEXAS
THE NATIONAL BOARD OF FIRE UNDERWRITERS
85 John Street
NEW YORK 7, N. Y.
Dedicated to the people of Texas City and their heroic firemen whose tragic disaster, we pray, will be a lesson to those who say "it can't happen here".
This arial photograph , looking south over Monsanto Chemical Co., was taken about 30 minutes following the blast of the S. S. GRANDCAMP.
Witwer Studios, Galveston, Texas, Nos. 5,6,7,14,15,32,33,34,36,37.
Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas, Nos. 8,9,13,23,24,25,27,35.
Galveston News, Galveston, Texas, Nos. 10,12,26,28.
National Fire Protection Association, No. 38.
In view of the confusing and chaos existing at the time of and immediately following a catastrophe of this nature, it is felt that some explanation is necessary of the conditions under which the data in this report was collected. The primary thought in the minds of all personnel in the area was the removal of the dead and injured, consequently little attention was given to the conditions of structures in the time intervening between the first and second explosion. Any attempt to evaluate damage done by the explosion of the S. S. GRANDCAMP and the explosion of the S. S. HIGH FLYER sixteen hours later is almost impossible except through the use of the few photographs taken during this interval.
It must also be realized that practically the entire dock area was obscured by dense smoke from the burning Monsanto Chemical Company and the numerous oil tanks in the area which made it extremely difficult for observation and practically impossible to obtain photographs of the warehouse area. Considerable information regarding the condition of the structures in the dock area immediately following the explosion of the S. S. GRANDCAMP was obtained from personnel aboard the S. S. HIGH FLYER who survived the explosion of the first ship and escaped across the deck of the WILSON B. KEENE which was berthed alongside Warehouse "B".
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the various people of Texas City, to rescue workers in the dock area, to officials and employees of the various companies in the area for the valuable information given regarding the disaster.
The numerous courtesies and the most excellent cooperation given members of the investigating party by Chief W. L. Ladish of the Texas City Police Department and members assisting police departments from other cities, by Colonel Homer Garrison, Jr., Director and all members of the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Rangers and by Assistant Chief F. Dowdy and the surviving members of the Texas City Fire Department are gratefully acknowledged.
Data collected for this report was obtained by M. M. Braidech, Research Director, National Board of Fire Underwriters, Hugh V. Keepers and H. H. Davis, Engineers, Fire Prevention and Engineering Bureau of Texas.
A. SIDNEY BRIGGS, Manager
Fire Prevention and Engineering Bureau of Texas
W. E. MALLALIEU, General Manager
National Board of Underwriters
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.
Ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) has the following physical and chemical properties
of interest to the matter under consideration:
Melting Point: 338 F.
Slow Decomposition Point: 393 F.
Boiling Point: ..410 F.
Heat of Explosion: ..384 calories/kilogram
It is a crystalline powder, varying in color from almost white to brown. In military use it is mixed (as an oxidizer or promoter of combustion) with TNT in the manufacturer of 'Amatol' which is used primarily as a bursting charge in demolition bombs. In peacetime use it is an excellent source of nitrogen for all crops, and it is one of the most concentrated forms of nitrogen fertilizer (35%N). Ammonium nitrate usually cannot be detonated by heat or friction, it is comparatively insensitive. However, it may be exploded under favorable conditions by severe mechanical shock or by sufficiently heavy initiation of an intermediate explosive agent (such as detonation with a fulminating cap used in exploding dynamite). Fertilizer piles containing this material should not be blasted. A shock may mechanically set up a chain of events which will result in the detonation of the entire mass of material. Shock waves propagated at a velocity of about 5,000 meters per second, or over, appear to be required. Incidents have been reported in laboratories when the material was heated rapidly, but larger quantities in wooden kegs and casks have been exposed to test fires without detonation. However, impure salts may be exploded by relatively high initiation. If ammonium nitrate is mixed with carbonaceous materials. it is exploded more readily. It is sensitized by the presence of explosive substances like nitrocellulose or aromatic nitro compounds, or of non-explosive combustible substances like sulphur, charcoal, flour, sugar, or oil and by incombustible substances such as zinc, cadmium, and copper. Ammonium nitrate is not very flammable at atmospheric temperatures, and is considered an incombustible salt. However, when undergoing decomposition it is accompanied by a series of thermal chemical changes involving heat-absorbing (endothermic, - 41,3000 calories) and subsequent heat evolving (exothermic, + 51,000 calories) reaction and when subjected to temperature of 350 F to 390 F rapid decomposition occurs with production of a whole series of toxic oxides-of-nitrogen gasses (N2O, NO2, N2O2, N2O3 and N2O4) evidenced by brown to orange-reddish fumes. The progressive acceleration of successive changes may result in the production of temperatures as high as 2700 F with pressures of 160,000 pounds per square inch. One initial reaction at more moderate temperatures results in the formation of oxygen, nitrogen and steam, promoting self sustained combustion (reducing the effectiveness of the smothering action of steam.)
Ammonium nitrate is possessed of deliquescent or hygroscopic (moisture absorption) properties to the extent that the individual salt grains become cemented, through this moisture pickup, and form large cake masses from bulk material in storage. To permit safer, prolonged storage (particularly in humid climate), and promote the maintenance of loose bulk and free-flowing product for the use in agricultural implements (drills or distributors), certain conditioning agents such as parting dust and water repellent coatings are being admixed. End of World War I brought about such coating agents as petrolatum, parafin, resin and Gilsonite (asphalt material). The addition of small amounts of various dust (Kaolin, Kieselguhr, Plaster of Paris, Soapstone, ect.) to minimize caking has long been practiced in the explosive industry and is now being adapted for fertilizer conditioning.
Large grains of rounded granules tend to decrease the explosibility and it might be noted that the United States Department of Agriculture does not consider ammonium nitrate as explosive when stored in wooden containers or paper bags as long as they are segregated from other explosives. It should be remembered that the use of certain organic substances named above as anti-caking or anti-cementing, they may also act in some respects like a fuse and increase the possibilities of spontaneous combustion. The addition of other substances like super-phosphate and ammonium sulfate may act in the same way. It is especially dangerous if ammonium nitrate decomposes at a temperature less than 212 F., because of the formation of ammonia and nitric acid. Nitric acid may sensitize this compound to thermal and mechanical shock more readily.
There are three important factors which seem to control the thermal decomposition and possible explosion of ammonium nitrate - one is temperature, the second one is crystal structure and the third a trace of impurities or extraneous matter. Other factors include detonation, density, packing, particle, size and moisture content. Uniformity of blending and coating of the non-caking addition agent may also be of particular concern.
Ammonium Nitrate Involved In Texas City Explosion
The ammonium nitrate involved in this explosion was brown in color and in small pellets or grains about the size of medium grains of sand. It was packed in six-ply moisture proof paper bags two of which were impregnated with some material, apparently an asphaltic compound. Below is reproduced the printing with the letters shown in relative sizes as they appear on the bag.
100 lbs. Net
101.5 lbs. Gross
1.6 cu. ft
Made in U. S. A.
The original source is not known but is believed to have been one of the mid-western Army ordnance plants since similar bags with identical lettering were shipped by such a plant. Bags of ammonium nitrate, observed elsewhere, manufactured by private plants indicate the name of the company and its point of manufacture.
Analysis of the ammonium nitrate was not completed in sufficient time to be embodied in this report but will be contained in a forthcoming bulletin to be issued by the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
(1) 1918 - Morgan, N. J.: Fire broke out in the amatol loading plant where over 30,000,000 lbs. of explosives were stored in magazines and loaded in shells. Upwards of 9,000,000 lbs. of ammonium nitrate were involved. Craters 150'x140'x20' were formed. Other quantities of ammonium nitrate stored at other sites within this area did not detonate or explode, although exposed to fire and shock.
(2) 1921 - Oppau, Germany: An enormous pile (4,500 tons) of ammonium sulfonitrate (ammonium nitrate - ammonium sulfate) fertilizer salt was detonated apparently by blasting charges, though blasting had been done many times previously, 450 lives were lost, more than 700 homes destroyed, the buildings housing the plant disappeared entirely - with a mammoth crater 250 ft. in diameter and more than 50 ft. deep - the shock was felt 150 miles away - cause of the explosion was undetermined.
(3) 1924 - Nixon, N. J.: Ammonium nitrate was being recovered from military explosives for its fertilizer value, when a disastrous explosion and fire took place in a works recovering the material from 'amatol' an explosive consisting of 80% ammonium nitrate and 20% TNT.
(4) 1925 (April 4 and May 3): Two carloads of ammonium nitrate from Muscle Shoals were destroyed by fire while in transportation. Each car contained 220 barrels of the material - packed in new flour barrels (manila paper lined). These barrels, with their contents, had been standing in the warehouses for some 6 years, therefore, exposed to varying changes in humidity. The barrel staves were believed to be well impregnated with ammonium nitrate, and it was thought that the fire may have been initiated by friction of the niter-impregnated staves upon one another. It was also reported that other shipments came through successfully.
CITY IN GENERAL
The City Of Texas City located 10 miles north of Galveston on Galveston Bay and with deep water (32-35 feet) access to the Gulf of Mexico had a population of approximately 20,000. It is chiefly a manufacturing community with two large chemical plants, three large oil refineries, oil tank farms and a concentrated dock area for both general cargo and petroleum products. These plants drew employees from numerous nearby communities and the City of Galveston in addition to those residing in Texas City. During the late war, its plants were of considerable importance particularly that of Monsanto Chemical Co., a large producer of styrene, a material used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber.
The topography is general level and only a few feet above sea level. Weather conditions at the time of the first explosion 9:12 A.M. April 16, 1947, as obtained from the U.S. Weather Bureau located at Galveston 10 miles distant, indicated a wind from N.N.W. at 20 miles per hour, temperature 56 degrees, and barometric pressure 30.07 inches. Practically the same weather conditions prevailed at 1:10 A.M. April 17, 1947 when the S.S. HIGH FLYER exploded. Wind from the N.N.W. and cool weather is unusual for this area this late in the year but proved very helpful in driving smoke and gasses away from the city and permitted accelerated rescue operations.
First Explosion - S.S. GRANDCAMP.
The S.S. GRANDCAMP, a former Liberty ship of 7176 tons about 437 feet long was owned by the French Government. It was berthed at Warehouse (Pier) "O" as shown on figures 3, 5, 6 and 7 opposite the Monsanto Chemical Co., plant. The ship had previously loaded considerable oil field machinery, drill stems, about 200 tons of peanuts at Houston and a large quantity of sisal twine in balls (amount unknown). Loading at Texas City consisted principally of ammonium nitrate, which was stored in the two east sections of Warehouse (Pier) "O" along with sacked flour and rolls of wire fencing in the west section.
The stevedores had been ordered to report for loading at 8 A.M. instead of
the usual hour of 7 A.M. but why this later hour was specified is not known.
The fact that the loading operations started later than usual probably delayed
the explosion and saved many lives in the Monsanto plant since shifts change
at the plant at 8 A.M.
It has been stated by one of the stevedores that it took about 10 minutes to remove the hatch from No. 4 Hold preparatory to begin loading operations. He descended into the hold, which contained part of the 2300-ton cargo of ammonium nitrate previously loaded at this port; to receive cargo when to odor of smoke was noticed. He immediately began to examine the material in an attempt to locate the fire. The source proved to be alongside the hull in the space formed by sweat boards installed to prevent damage to cargo from condensation on the interior of the ship. This is more or less common practice on ships where the cargo is bulky and subject to damage from moisture. Unable to locate the seat of the fire, he removed several tiers of bags to obtain a better view and could readily see that the cargo was on fire. Calling for water, a container was lowered and thrown and a second container was lowered and thrown on the fire without appreciable effect; a soda-acid extinguisher was next tried to no avail. A hose line was called for but before one could be obtained and used, someone gave orders not to apply water, as the cargo would be damaged. It has been reported but without confirmation that steam was used in an attempt to extinguish the fire. About this time (estimated to be 8:30 A.M. by witnesses who left the area and survived) the stevedores were ordered to abandon ship. The orders were carried out promptly and all left the area and survived. It is reliably reported that the ship's captain also issued orders sometime during this period to abandon ship. The crew abandoned but the majority of them remained in the vicinity and were lost. It is known that only 7 of the entire crew survived the explosion.
It is reliably that No. 2 Hold also contained ammonium nitrate but no fire is known to have existed in this section. Several cases of ammunition, a portion of which is known to have been for small arms was loaded in No. 5 Hold. Attempt was made by the stevedores to remove this cargo and a portion had been carried out when the abandon ship order was given. The character of the remaining ammunition is not known but no evidence points to this cargo as contributing to the explosion.
The story of the fire department operations prior to the explosion is somewhat meager as all firemen on the dock (26) at the time were killed and all equipment destroyed (4 pieces). The alarm was received by telephone at about 8:30 A.M. (no record was kept but several persons verified the time). Two trucks responded with paid driver and volunteers responded both to the ship and the fire station. The two remaining trucks responded subsequently. One of the officers of the S.S. HIGH FLYER berthed in the Main Slip succeeded in obtaining a number of photographs and returned to his ship (See Fig.10). It is from these photographs that a part of the story can be told. All of these photographs were taken between 8:37 and 8:50 A.M. and show lines being laid and at least one stream being used from the dock. Another line is in evidence on the gangplank so the conclusion can be drawn that at least one line was in use on deck.
All witnesses to the fire stated that the color of smoke issuing from the burning ship was quite dense and reddish-orange in color. It is very evident in the photograph of the ship taken about 8:45 A.M. (See Fig.10). This reddish-orange color is typical of oxides-of-nitrogen smoke or fumes. A reliable source stated that the hull of the ship was sufficiently hot at 9 A.M., 12 minutes before the blast, to vaporize water the water flowing from the deck.
The time of origin of the fire and the cause will probably never be known. The hatch on No. 4 Hold had been battened down since the previous days loading and it is possible that the fire had been smoldering for some time. It is also possible that fire had been introduced into this Hold shortly after the hatch was removed, perhaps by a cigarette, but it is doubtful whether enough time had elapsed from the time the hatch was open until the fire became evident even though the fuel was an oxidizing chemical in six-ply heavy paper bags. It is probable that it could have been extinguished in its incipiency had water in large quantities been used. Once the fire made headway, the fact that the cargo was ammonium nitrate in combustible bags cause the extremely rapid spread.
At 9:12 A.M. April 16,1947 the S.S. GRANDCAMP exploded with great violence. Numerous witnesses testify to the fact that a second explosion followed not more than 5 seconds later. Some witnesses state a third and much less severe explosion followed but at somewhat longer interval. Two distinct shocks followed by sound some time later were easily felt in Galveston, 10 miles distant. The shocks there were of sufficient intensity to shatter several plate glass windows and shake building over a wide area. Reliable reports indicate shocks and broken plate glass in Baytown, 25 miles distant. It is significant that both of the cities are located on land bordering Galveston Bay and the shocks were probably transmitted through water.
An immense tidal wave, known to be more than 15 feet high, was created by the blast and caused water to flow over a considerable area in the immediate vicinity of the explosion. There is evidence throughout the Monsanto Chemical Co. property and the north dock area of this wall of water. An oil barge (See Figs. 28, 29) 150 feet in length, 28 feet wide and 11 feet deep was lifted from the north Slip carried about two hundred feet and dropped. It is clear that this was the result of the wave as there is no evidence that the barge was dropped with any force. It is practically undamaged except for minor holes in the starboard side from flying steel fragments.
Second Explosion - S.S. HIGH FLYER.
The S.S. HIGH FLYER was owned and operated by Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., Inc. It was a modern C-2 (modified type) and one of the newer ships of the company. The cargo was 2000 tons of sulfur loaded at Galveston, 961 tons of ammonium nitrate in paper bags loaded at Warehouse (Pier) "O" in Texas City. At the time of the explosion of the S.S. GRANDCAMP it was berthed in the Main Slip alongside Warehouse (Pier) "A". (See Figs. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7). A cargo of knocked-down boxcars was being loaded. The ships turbines were down for repair making it impossible for the ship to move without the aid of tugs.
Berthed about opposite this ship on the south side of the Main Slip alongside
Warehouse (Pier) "B" was the S.S.WILSON B KEENE of the Lykes Bros.
Steamship Co., Inc., engaged in loading sacked flour. This was a Liberty Ship,
441 ft. long with a gross tonnage of 6214. The explosion of the S.S. GRANDCAMP
tore the S.S. HIGH FLYER loose from its moorings and across the slip to the
side of the S.S. WILSON B. KEENE at the same time the stern anchor broke loose
and secured the ship in this location. All crewmembers abandoned ship immediately
and most left the area. It is not known when or in what manner the ammonium
nitrate became ignited. From information available it is understood that tugs
with volunteer crews from Galveston arrived in the early afternoon and attempted
to move the ship but were unsuccessful due to entanglements between the two
ships and the stern anchor of the S.S. HIGH FLYER. After several attempts the
tugs abandoned their efforts and retired. Again about 10 or 11 P.M. tugs from
Galveston with volunteer crews arrived and attempted to move the vessel. The
ship was freed of the S.S. WILSON B. KEENE but was held in place by the stern
anchor, which caused the hawser on the tug to snap. It is reported that the
anchor chain was finally severed or that the chain was pulled loose when a larger
hawser was attached to the ship and some progress was being made. As the S.S.
HIGH FLYER drew clear of the S.S. WILSON B. KEENE and about 100 feet away from
Warehouse (Pier) "B" and at a point about midway out of the slip the
explosion occurred, (See Figs. 3, 5, 6, 7 and 12). Time 1:12 A.M., April 18,
Practically everyone had been cleared of the area and it is reported that only a few people were killed or injured, including several injured aboard the tug.
It is practically impossible to segregate the damage caused by the explosion of the S.S. GEANDCAMP first and the S.S. HIGH FLYER second, but from reliable witnesses it is know that the complete collapse of Warehouse (Pier) "A" was caused by the second explosion. Warehouse (Pier) "B" which was damaged by the first explosion was still standing and fairly intact but after the second explosion all had collapsed except a small portion of the first floor on the west end. The grain elevators and grain tanks were slightly damaged by the first explosion but holes were blown in the east tanks and the elevator section was badly damaged in the second explosion. Damage elsewhere was overlapping and it is difficult if not impossible to segregate the loss resulting from each explosion.
Since the major destruction was caused in a small number of industrial plants, each will be covered separately as will the damage to the business and residential areas and to the automobiles.
MONSANTO CHEMICAL COMPANY
In the early stages of World War II, the site of the old Texas Sugar Refining Co., was acquired by the government and Monsanto Chemical Co., constructed and operated a large modern styrene plant for Rubber Reserve Corp. The plant supplied a large portion of the styrene used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber and prior to the explosion a portion of their output (polystyrene) was being used in the manufacture of plastics by other concerns. Raw material was received by rail and finished product shipped in the same manner.
The original sugar plant buildings were being used as storage space, a new polystyrene plant, offices, machine shop, and boiler house (See Figs. 2, 11, 23, and 24). The Defense Plant Corporation had constructed a styrene plant located adjoining and to the north of this area. (See Figs. 2 and 37). The Styrene Area consisted of Pump House, Dehydrogenation Unit, Distillation Area, Propane Cracking Unit, Alkylation Unit, Ethylene Area, Propane Tanks, Styrene Tanks and Benzol Storage. Numerous small process tanks and buildings were scattered throughout the area.
No attempt has been made to evaluate the damage to the individual buildings or unite, however, a general estimate of the extent of loss to these areas is apparent from a close visual inspection. PUMP HOUSE: The pump house building (fireproof construction) suffered considerable damage to the north and south walls form the explosion but motors and pumps are apparently undamaged. It is possible that some piping may be broken. STEAM BOILERS: These units in the open, just north of the Dehydrogenation Unit, had only minor damage from flying fragments. DEHYDROGENATION UNIT: The Control House, which extends through the center of the unit, shows heavy damage. All instruments are wrecked and the brick walls are cracked. The steam super heaters are apparently undamaged except for broken lines and small damage from flying fragments, there was practically no fire in this area. DISTILLATION AREA: Destruction in this area is difficult to determine due to its construction. Practically all tanks are burned and fire was still in evidence in the two tower clusters as late as April 19, 1947. Both control houses are badly damaged primarily by blast effect. Tanks to the north of this unit were heavily damaged by fire and control house in the unit is badly wrecked. There is no apparent damage to the underground storage tanks. ETHYLENE AREA: The two heaters appear to be slightly damaged by fire and there is some damage from the blast. Gas Compressor building suffered heavily but compressors appear to be in good condition. There appears to have been only a small amount of fire in this building. The two-fractionation units appear to be a total loss; towers are warped and leaning and the area experienced considerable fire. BENZOL STORAGE: The two 11,600 lb benzol tanks are a total loss. The north tank burned for 7 days before burning out. STYRENE STORAGE AND LOADING DOCKS: The entire area along with the fuel oil tank is a total loss. The 8 propane tanks suffered some fire damage, but except for dents caused by flying fragments appear in fair condition. Only a close examination will disclose their actual condition. LABORATORY SERVICE AND OFFICE BUILDINGS: These brick and steel buildings were heavily damaged by blast. The Laboratory is a total loss and the interior of the Service Building is completely wrecked. OLD SUGAR REFINING BUILDINGS: This group of brick and steel buildings which housed the polystyrene plant, machine shop, various warehouses and boiler house bore the brunt of the explosion and were so severely wrecked as to be considered a total loss. The Polystyrene Warehouse and the Equipment Storage section have disappeared except for scattered rubble. The dock extending alongside has vanished. GENERAL: The wave of water thrown up by the explosion of the S.S. GRANDCAMP swept across the entire plant premises leaving a layer of oil and styrene over most of the area. All instruments and instrument control lines were broken. Numerous pipelines throughout the area were broken allowing material in process to escape and burn. Flying fragments from the ship pierced tanks and buildings causing leakage of contents and fire. From an inspection of the area and a study of photographs, there is no evidence of an explosion anywhere in the plant area.
TEXAS CITY TERMINAL RAILWAY COMPANY
The Texas City Terminal Railway Co., was organized in 1905 under another name
and has been in operation since that time. Activity was greatly accelerated
during World War II when considerable oil and general cargo was handled through
the port. Generally heavy shipments of petroleum products were handled through
the port even prior to the war and as the number and size of the refineries
increased it became an important petroleum handling port with principal oil
loading docks in and near the South Slip. It is known that about 75,000 tons
of ammonium nitrate has been handled through the port in the past six months
along with a large tonnage of UNNRA flour and grain. The terminal is located
in the southern part of the city and has deepwater (32-35 feet) access to the
Gulf of Mexico.
The terminal was jointly owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Railroad Co., the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Co., and the Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. The oil docks are believed to be at least partly owned by one or more of the refineries operating in Texas City.
Destruction in this area was widespread and generally complete. Buildings consisted of 8 major warehouses (3 used as piers), four small warehouses, grain elevator and scattered auxiliary buildings (See Fig. 3).
Major damage to Warehouses (Pier) "O", (Pier) "A", "C", "D", "E", Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and auxiliary buildings was caused by the explosion of the S.S. GRANDCAMP according to information from reliable observers in the area in the interval between explosions. Very few photographs were taken anywhere in the dock area due to the dense smoke caused by the burning Monsanto Chemical Co. Following is a brief description of the damage to each of the major structures.
Warehouse (Pier) "O": Located on south side of North Slip opposite the Monsanto Chemical Co. (See Figs. 3, 4 and 11). Building is one story tall, all metal, size 155' x 882', with two fire division walls built on filled land contained in wood piling. It was used for loading general cargo and at the time of the explosion the east half contained ammonium nitrate in six-ply paper bags and the west half contained flour in burlap bags and a small amount of wire fencing. Ammonium nitrate had previously been loaded aboard the S.S. HIGH FLYER at this point and at the time of the explosion preparations were being made to continue the loading of the S.S. GRANDCAMP, which was berthed about opposite the east section where the explosion occurred. The blast completely obliterated 500 feet of the east end of the building, removed all of the earth work and piling and leaving in it's place water and floating wreckage. The small former cotton compress located between Warehouse (Pier) "O" and Warehouse (Pier) "A" was also blown away. The west portion of the warehouse was blown down and the bags of flour became ignited. Considerable amount of sacked ammonium nitrate remained after the explosion and became ignited six days later from the burning flour. It was practically all consumed in an hour. The warehouse and the adjoining cotton compress is a total loss.
Warehouse (Pier) "A": (See Figs. 3 and 6). A one-story concrete fireproof sprinklered building, size 157' x 882', also on filled ground as in the case of Warehouse (Pier) "O". Building was divided into three sections by standard firewalls and was used for general cargo with sacked flour storage at the time of the explosion. The S.S. HIGH FLYER was berthed alongside the south side of this warehouse in process of loading knocked-down boxcars from gondolas on the dock at the time of the S.S. GRANDCAMP explosion. The blast tore it loose from it's mooring and forced it across the slip against the S.S. WILSON B. KEENE. This warehouse was totally destroyed by the first explosion except for portions of the walls, which were blown in, by the subsequent explosion of the S.S. HIGH FLYER.
Warehouse (Pier) "B": (See Figs, 3, 7, 16, 17 and 18). A two story concrete fireproof sprinklered building, size 120' x 1160', in four fire divisions built on filled ground; storage was sacked flour and rice and some jute bagging in bales on the second floor. The building was moderately damaged in the first explosion but was totally destroyed except for a small portion on the first floor in the explosion of the S. S.HIGH FLYER which was located as shown on Figs. 3 and 7 at the time it exploded.
Warehouses "C", "D", AND "E": (See Figs. 3, 19 and 20). All were of all-metal construction, one story high with two standard fire division walls each in "C" and "D". Warehouse "C", a sprinklered building, size 100' x 750', contained juts bagging, empty drums, flour and sacked tin ore; Warehouse "D", size 100' x 750', contained ammonium nitrate, tin ore and miscellaneous cargo; Warehouse "E", size 120' x 520', contained tin ore and other unknown commodities. It is reliably reported that all of these warehouses were ignited by the first explosion and were totally destroyed, primarily by fire. The ammonium nitrate stored in Warehouse "D" survived both blasts and the fire which ensued, however, one freight car containing ammonium nitrate adjacent to the warehouse was consumed.
Warehouse No. 1: (See Fig. 3) A one story, sprinklered building, size 76' x 1024', I 8 fire divisions with storage of refractory material, catalyst, empty drums and miscellaneous commodities was burned and a total loss but it is not known whether this occurred in the first or second explosion.
Warehouse Nos. 2, 3, 4 AND 5, each 100' x 250' (See Fig. 3). These buildings were all metal, one story high and contained tin ore in bags and miscellaneous commodities. All were damaged to some extent by both explosions but no fire ensued. The walls were blown off and the roofs perforated by flying fragments.
Warehouse No. 6: (See Figs. 3 and 14). A one story sprinklered, frame metal clad building, size 90' x 1400', in two fire divisions used for storage of sacked tin ore and empty drums. The east section burned and the west section was destroyed by blast effects but whether by the first or second explosion it is not known. Even though the vertical rolling fire doors did not function, fire did not pass through the opening. The building is a total loss.
Grain Elevator: (See Figs. 3, 9, 13 and 21). A 470,000 bushel concrete grain elevator with all metal conveyors to Warehouse "B" was severely damaged. The elevator section, warehouse and the conveyor are total losses but it appears that 10 of the 12 grain tanks suffered only minor damage, however, a closer examination may reveal damage which will render it a total loss. The tanks contained about 400,000 bushels of wheat at the time of the explosion and at least a portion of this which escaped through holes in one of the tanks is damaged.
Auxiliary Buildings: All auxiliary buildings are a total loss, many have completely disappeared. Elevated water tanks had perforations and bent tower legs. Extent of damage not ascertainable.
Oil Docks: (See Figs. 3 and 33). Oil docks along both sides of the South Slip were totally destroyed but the dock located to the south east of this point does not appear to be heavily damaged.
A large crane (Figs. 11, 22 and 23) located on the north side of the North Slip was used to lift loaded railroad cars from the tracks to the hold of a ship for transportation to other ports. The crane was severely damaged by flying steel fragments and appears to have been subjected to considerable heat. It will probably be a total loss. Fortunately no ships were being loaded at the time of the explosion.
REPLUBLIC OIL REFINING CO.
This refinery, an affiliate of Benedum-Tress interest of Pittsburgh, Pa., including the Defense Plant Corporation portion was of considerable value. Loss was general throughout from flying missiles and blast effect, practically every building experiencing some damage but the majority was slight to moderate. An 80,000 bbl. Tank located 7,000 feet from point of explosion was fired and burned to a total loss. Numerous other large tanks (55,000 bbl.) were partially crushed or totally collapsed from blast effects of the explosion. (See Figs. 1 and 34). Many of the key plant personnel assisting in firefighting at the S.S. GRANDCAMP were lost. Primary damage to the plant was caused by the first explosion.
SOUTHPORT-REPUBLIC TERMINAL CO.
This is a joint subsidiary organization of the old Southport Petroleum Co. (now Sid Richardson Refining Co.) and Republic Oil Refining Co., and owns 18 tanks in this area. All tanks suffered from blast effect and one 55,000 bbl. Tank burned to a total loss. Ignition is believed to have been caused by hot flying fragments.
HUMBLE PIPELINE CO.
Tanks of this company suffered extremely heavy damage. It is understood that all of the 10 tanks (55,000 bbls. Each) were full in anticipation of the arrival of tankers for loading the day following the explosion of the S.S. GRANDCAMP. The first explosion caused hot fragments of steel to fall in the area rupturing and igniting several tanks. The second explosion also caused some tanks to ignite from flying hot fragments with the result that fire from burning tanks spread and subsequently ignited other tanks, principally through the medium of wood roofs. Eight of the ten tanks were involved, one of which was finally extinguished but not without considerable loss. The remaining two tanks were distorted by the force of the explosion.
SID RICHARDSON REFINING CO.
This company (formerly Southport Petroleum Co.) sustained practically no loss in the reefing area except for the collapsed of an old wood roof 55,000 bbl. Tank from concussion. In the terminal area, two 55,000 bbl. Tanks were burned and two were crushed by blast effects with a sphere of about 10,000 bbl. Capacity a total loss through explosion. This tank was apparently empty and was penetrated by a hot fragment which caused the explosion; an adjoining sphere (80,000 bbls. Capacity) was undamaged. No other spheres were lost anywhere in the area even though one at Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Co. was struck by large pieces of metal.
STONE OIL CO.
A small refinery located east of Republic Oil Refining Co., nearest refinery to the explosion, sustained considerable damage from flying missiles and fire loss to a small tanks and buildings in this area.
ATLANTIC PIPELINE COMPANY
Minor concussion damage was evident to the 6 tanks of this company, which is located just north and adjoining the Stone Oil Co. An undetermined amount of damage was sustained in the oil docks of this company.
PAN AMERICAN REFINING CORP.
No apparent damage was sustained by this large refinery but some damage was done to the loading dock in the terminal area.
CARBIDE AND CARBON CHEMICLAS CO.
The plant of this company is remotely located from the explosion point and was undamaged, however, terminal facilities (See Fig. 3) located in the south part of the dock area were heavily damaged. One aluminum alloy tank ignited, the contents (unknown) burned and the tank melted. Other tanks except a sphere were damaged by fire and blast effects, the sphere appears to be only slightly damaged by falling steel fragments.
OTHER INDUSTRIAL PLANTS
As far as could be determined, no other major industrial plant in this area sustained damaged.
The mercantile district extends along 6th Street and Texas Avenue for several
blocks in all directions from the intersection of these streets. (See Figs.
1 and 31). Damage was heavy to all large area buildings, particularly two theatres,
the roofs of which collapsed. The City Hall located at 6th Avenue N. and 6th
Street sustained considerable structural damage, as did the theatre immediately
across the street. Practically all damage in the mercantile area was from concussion,
although some flying missiles were observed as far away as the High School Gymnasium,
which was used as a morgue. (See Figs. 1 and 32 for extent of damage).
The school group, located at 6th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue North, sustained heavy damage to interior of building, many partitions in the Danforth Elementary School were completely wrecked. Flying glass injured many school children in the building.
All residences in the area south of 9th Avenue North have been inspected by contractors, architects and engineers from Houston and Texas City and by plumbers from Galveston at the request of Mayor Trahan. A total of 1519 buildings were inspected, of which 539 were condemned as unsafe for occupancy. This should not be interpreted to mean that these buildings will have to be demolished, but it does mean that considerable repair will be necessary before they are habitable. Many of the buildings classed as safe will require considerable repair. Windows in residences and plate glass in mercantile buildings were broken throughout the city. As a general rule, small windows facing away from the blast were undamaged. Numerous roofs were crushed from the concussion which indicated that at least one explosion occurred in the air, possibly from unburned gasses. This follows closely the results observed from bombs bursting in the air as noted so commonly in the study of bomb damage in the late war.
Approximately 600 automobiles in the Monsanto parking lot and the dock area were practically a total loss. Damage was by fire, concussion or flying missiles or by a combination of two or all of these. It is estimated that about 500 cars throughout the city sustained damaged to glass from concussion or in some cases from flying steel fragments. All of the city fire trucks (4) were lost in the explosion of the S.S. GRANDCAMP.
RAILROAD ROLLING STOCK
There were 362 freight cars in the Texas City Terminal Co. yards, all of which were damaged and many of which were totally destroyed. About one-third of the damage was by fire and the remainder by concussion and flying metal. Five locomotives were badly damaged, of which three were a total loss. (See Fig. 15).
In addition to the two vessels involved in the explosion, the S.S. WILSON B. KEENE, a Liberty Ship of the Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., Inc., was destroyed by the explosion of the S.S. HIGH FLYER. (See Fig. 12). An oil barge own by The Texas Co. was washed ashore (See Fig. 28) by the wave resulting from the explosion of the S.S. GRANDCAMP and will entail considerable expense to re-launch. The barge does not appear to have sustained any major damage.
Water and power supply is owned and operated by the Community Public Service Co. Power supply was interrupted by the first explosion but an emergency line was place in operation and power restored at noon the same day. Several water lines were broken and to conserve the water supply the elevated tank was shut off immediately. These breaks were isolated and 200 broken services shut off. Supply was restored at noon same day when power was available to operate the pumps. Concrete ground reservoir located at N. 10th Street and 9th Avenue N was slightly cracked.
At the date of this writing (April 29, 1947) bodies were still being recovered
and will probably continue to be recovered for some time to come. The exact
casualties will probably never be known as many bodies were blown to pieces,
but to date 433 bodies have been recovered, of which about 371 have been identified.
About 135 are still missing. The injured numbered in the hundreds, the best
available figure is 2,00 to 3,000, many of whom were school children injured
by flying glass and falling partitions, and ceilings.
Practically all plants in this area had organized disaster plans during the late war and these organizations, together with relief agencies and military services, did remarkable work in recovering the dead and injured. Many doctors, nurses, police, firemen and others responded to the aid of the city, some from outside cities arriving in less than an hour after the explosion. In spite of the great confusion immediately after the explosion, the city officials of Texas City did a commendable job in organizing rescue work and controlling personnel, especially considering the fact that no central organized plan had been formulated.
It is too early to determine losses except in a general way. The loss of the Monsanto Chemical Co., the dock area and the Seatrain equipment is considered total. Losses to many oil tanks is also total, other losses are partial and will have to be determined after a close inspection. The following estimated losses do not include any marine coverage.
Monsanto Chemical Co.
Property .... . .$14,750,000
Use and Occupancy .. .. 7,000,000
Texas City Terminal Railway Co . 2,500,000
Southport Republic Terminal Co. ... . . 325,000
Sid Richardson Refining Co. .. .. 300,000
Carbide and Carbon Chemical Co.
(Terminal) . 250,000
Seatrain Lines, Inc. .. .. . 225,00 Pan American Refining Corp.
(Oil Dock) . 300,000
Humble Pipe Line Co. .. . 700,000
Republic Refining Co. . . 1,000,000
Railroad Rolling Stock .. . 450,000
Grain Loss .. 300,000
Dwellings and Contents . ..$2,000,000
Mercantile Buildings and Stocks 1,000,000
City and School Property ... 1,000,000
Grand Total . $32,850,000
It is believed that all of the above property was covered by insurance with
the possible exception of that owned by the Humble Pipe Line Co.
In addition to the losses listed, three large cargo ships, with cargoes, the contents of several hundred freight cars and most of the cargo stored in the Texas City Terminal Railway Co. buildings, all of which are practically a total loss.
No attempt has been made in this report to place the responsibility on any person or any particular action for the explosion, rather an attempt has been made to follow the chain of events leading up to the explosion and making suggestions which might prevent another such occurrence. It is apparent that little was known regarding the hazards of ammonium nitrate to anyone handling or storing this commodity. The false security engendered in the handling of ammonium nitrate which was such a major factor in this disaster was caused by the improper labeling of the paper bags. No instructions were printed on the bags concerning the handling of the material nor was it labeled as being a hazardous chemical. Lettering in a red color which often denotes hazardous materials would have called to the attention of all concerned, its hazardous nature. A suggestion pertaining to the labeling of containers of ammonium nitrate is shown under recommendations.
The storage of ammonium nitrate pending shipment either by ship or railroad had not received the attention it deserves, at least not in the ports of this area. Great quantities of this material were handled during the late war and so far as is known no incident occurred either in storage or handling, but the War Department labeled required on containers is very different from that in present use. The War Department Ordnance Safety Manual classifies ammonium nitrate as an explosive when stored in an explosive area with quantities and distant the same as required for other high explosives. When stored in area with other combustible materials, it must be stored in accordance with regulations for smokeless powder. It should never be stored where it will come in contact with carbonaceous materials. Interstate Commerce Commission regulations require a yellow label when shipped in quantities of 100 pounds or more.
The practice of smoking in piers or on docks at any time should always be prohibited regardless of cargo being handled and smoking should obviously be prohibited when handling any combustible cargo. The enforcement of such a regulation is another matter and can only be obtained through education of persons concerned. Whether or not this fire originated from smoking, it must still be considered as a common source of ignition and all precautions taken to regulate it. The use of open lights in these same areas should carry the same restriction as smoking regulations.
Any port facility and city where large industrial operations are present should have a complete Disaster Plan with all relief agencies, police and fire departments, hospitals, doctors and nurses, civil officials and where applicable Military authorities included. The plan should anticipate the worst possible disaster at any one location. It is possible that at least one ship and possibly the second might have been saved had such arrangements been made beforehand.
Port facilities receiving ships' manifests which indicate a hazardous cargo should immediately notify the chief of the fire department the time of the arrival of the ship, its location and the nature of the cargo. It almost always devolves upon the city fire department to fight fires on ships while in port and any advance receipt of such information regarding the cargo will permit a plan of action preceding the notification of fire. The same information regarding storage of hazardous materials on pier and wharves should be furnished to the city fire department.
Anyone dealing with or handling ammonium nitrate should be fully advised of
the hazardous nature of the chemical and fully instructed as to the proper methods
of storage and handling. The proper labeling of the containers is of utmost
importance. The label should be red in color with the words "Hazardous
Chemicals" - :Ammonium Nitrate" - "Handle With Care" prominently
displayed with any other notations in small type, preferably of some other color.
Following are interim recommendations for the storage and handling of Ammonium Nitrate which should be followed pending publication of complete regulations to be promulgated in a forthcoming bulletin to be published by the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
1. Material should be stored only in masonry or fireproof sprinklered buildings
on skids or pallets on concrete floors with at least on foot clearance from
2. Storage should preferably be in separate fire divisions from highly combustible commodities or well segregated (but not necessarily in separate fire divisions) from not so highly combustible commodities such as sulphur, flour, sugar, cotton (compressed) and charcoal. Intimate contact with metals such as cadmium, zinc, copper, tin and lead must be avoided. A minimum clearance of 5 feet should be maintained between ammonium nitrate and other materials.
3. Piles of ammonium nitrate in paper bags in storage should not exceed 10 bags (bags to meet the requirements of the Consolidated Freight Classification) high, 6 bags wide (narrow dimension) with 3 foot separation between piles and with handling aisles of 10 feet every 100 feet. Separation specified is necessary for inspections and fire fighting operations.
4. Spilled material from broken bags must be re-sacked immediately and, to avoid contamination to the contents, must not include floor sweepings. Floor sweepings and discarded bags should be immediately removed from the building and burned at a safe distance.
5. Ships holds or boxcars must be thoroughly clean before loading operations
6. Spilled material in the hold, cars or on dock and discarded sacks must be removed immediately and disposed of in a safe manner as described in 4 above. Any spilled material on docks should be flushed off thoroughly with water.
7. Proper dunnage and sweat-boards must be used in ship's hold and boxcars to prevent friction and to allow for circulation of air.
8. Smoking or use of open lights must be strictly prohibited at any time.
9. Other cargo must not be place in the same hold with ammonium nitrate.
10. Keep material clear of all steam lines and wiring.
11. Fire fighting methods should be the same as recommended in No. 13 below. Pending the outcome of tests now in progress, it is suggested that steam not be used for fire fighting in compartments containing ammonium nitrate.
FIRE FIGHTING OPERATIONS
12. Any ship with hazardous material such as ammonium nitrate as cargo entering a port must notify the port facility who in turn should notify the chief of the fire department immediately. Also port facilities storing ammonium nitrate must notify the chief of the fire department of the location and amount of the commodity.
13. Fire departments combating ammonium nitrate fires should use only water in large quantities (applied gently so as not to scatter the material) as an extinguishing agent and all personnel entering the fire area must wear masks approved for use in such locations. Fire in ammonium nitrate usually generates large quantities of oxides-of-nitrogen gasses, which are extremely toxic.
14. Cities in which large industrial operations are present or which are in area subject to hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and other like disturbances should have a well preconceived and organized Disaster Plan to include all relief, law enforcement, fire fighting, military and naval agencies.