What the People Said and Did
Wednesday, April 16, 1947
This RECORD of stark tragedy is given without attempt at literary adornment. Beginning in the dock area where the force was greatest, proceeding through the city and spreading out in all directions to neighboring towns, accounts of eyewitnesses follow.
The Monsanto Chemical Company covers some 40 acres, and incidents are related by employees at widely separated points.
A.H. Barth, from Monsanto drafting room:
"As I sat on my stool, looking through the window, a tremendous blast hit me, knocking me to the floor. I was unconscious for a few minutes. When I came to, I found I was blinded. Groping my way, I started toward a man who was moaning; someone else came up and led me out, assuring me that he would get the rest."
JOHN F. DAVIS:
"I was on the second floor of the Monsanto Polystyrene Unit. I heard a continual noise, of the building falling, water, oil, shell, crashing in all around me. It was dark. I thought I was drowning.
"After a few seconds it began to lighten, as if it were about dusk, instead of mid-morning of a bright, spring day.
"Dragging an injured leg, I hobbled toward the opening by the elevator. The stairs were gone.
"The building behind me was burning.
"C. W. Braswell met me. Bodies were all around us. We saw injured friends we could not help.
"Braswell and I decided to slide down one of the supporting steel columns. At last we got to the ground. His leg injured, Vernon Linton was sitting among the piles of rubble. He could not get up; he could not see which way to go, the rubble was so high. He asked,
"'John, how about helping me?'
"I said, 'We're all in pretty bad shape, but if you can crawl, we'll try to guide you.' "
FRED CONNOLLY, Chief Clerk of Maintenance Tool Room, Monsanto Chemical Company:
"I work in the tool room, located on the ground floor, facing northeast.
"I was knocked down. I don't know how long I was unconscious; when I came to, a rain of
soot and sand hissed and poured over me. As I realized the danger, my first thought was of my wife and little daughter, at home. Oh, God! Save me for them! Please!
"Getting to my feet, I tried to grope my way through the pitch darkness to the door, 30 feet away. I kept stumbling against heavy obstacles that bruised and cut me.
"Before long, I could see daylight.
"I reached the pipe shop and tried to get out the west door. Flames from the outside drove me back.
"I turned around and made it to the north entrance of the building. This led me onto the field of the plant where 1 beheld a fearful sight.
"Massed wreckage was everywhere. Huge tanks, afire, belched flames skyward. About three feet of oil and water covered the ground.
"I started wading toward the west fence."
MADELAINE ROCKEFELLER (Mrs. L. B.), in the storeroom of Monsanto:
"I was hit on the head by falling objects, probably bricks. They fell thick and fast. I dropped to my knees and crawled under a large table. I figured it was the end. I blacked out.
"Like waves on the beach, oil and water rushed in, reviving me. The next thing I noticed was a 100-foot area near me, afire. All I wanted was to get away before the Benzol tanks caught on fire.
"As I left the building, a bloody-faced man took my arm. We stumbled through water half way up to my knees.
"The utter silence was awful."
WILLIE D. DAVIS, colored:
"I was up on a ladder by the Monsanto building. I hit the ground on the side of my head and shoulder. Scrambling up, some kind of a way I ruint my neck. I pulled a white man with a broke leg about 200 yards in the clear. Then the fire boomed up and I got on out."
The Texas City Terminal Railway Company operated a half-mile of water front properties, with freight yards and warehouses extending inland a half mile.
HARLEY BOWEN, General Foreman, B. & B. Department, Texas City Terminal
"I was getting into my car at the plant about 8:30 A.M. when Harvey Menge came running up to me saying,
"'Mr. Bowen, there is a big fire in Warehouse "O"!'
"He got into the car with me and we went over. Volunteer Fire Chief Henry Baumgartner, also a Terminal employee, sent Menge up the dock to the fire.
"Chief Baumgartner then asked me to telephone to have the fire alarm turned on again. He said,
"'This is a dangerous fire. We need all the help we can get.'
"After I telephoned, I went back to the fire. Just before I reached the ship, I met H. 0. Wray, Sr., our Company Engineer, coming away from the ship. He told me to get some fire fighters assigned to the opposite side of the warehouse, and compress shed, to watch for burning paper.
I assigned Mr. Yeager, Mr. Nelson and Jesus Torres to the job. By this time, the fire trucks had arrived and there were several men standing around the ship. I saw I wasn't needed, so I started off the docks.
"Before I reached the end of the docks, Mr. Mikeska, President of our Company, told me to get some doors in the west section open so fire trucks could be on the dock side of the ship. He went on up to the ship and I went in the opposite direction.
"Mr. John Fuerst, our head policeman and the Custom Officer, seemed to be having difficulty in keeping spectators away from the ship. I asked Mr. Fuerst for the key for that section of the warehouse Mr. Mikeska wanted opened. He sent Moonshine (Gilbert Reyes) for it. We opened the west end door and I saw it was blocked with flour. I told Moonshine to go open some of the doors anyhow.
"I started toward Mr. Mikeska to tell him not to send any of the fire trucks around through the warehouse.
"Then the Grand Camp exploded.
"With the first explosions I fell through the docks and went under the water. With the second, I was blown completely out of the water, and it seemed high in the air. I landed on my feet, but fell face forward, stunned but not knocked out. I couldn't tell whether I had been blinded, or if it was the smoke-filled air that made everything seem in total darkness.
"I guess I lay there a minute before the smoke cleared away. I got back on my feet and saw I couldn't walk. 1 could see the Monsanto burning. I could also see some oil tanks afire up near the Stone Refinery.
"1 knew I was in a dangerous place; so I started crawling. 1 crawled to where Monsanto and Terminal Company roads intersect; there two fellows put me on a stretcher and carried me to the intersection of 3rd Street and the Dock Road.
"Many people were there. Harvey McGinnis flagged a truck and I was taken to the Danforth Clinic. Without unloading me from the truck, Dr. Clarence Quinn gave me a shot, somebody washed my eyes, and we started to Galveston."
W. A. JOHNSON, Jr., owner of Johnson Material Company, located on the Terminal
"I had just left the scene of the fire some three to five minutes prior to the explosion. The thing that still remains vivid in my memory is the fact that no one seemed to dream that the ship would explode, and therefore the loss of life was so heavy.
"On a Navy ship, I was at Guadalcanal when the U. S. Coast Guard Ship, the Cere pens, blew up. This ship was almost fully loaded with ammunition, and the resulting devastation was much the same as here, except that there were no buildings and plants to blow down."
GRANT WHEATON, executive of the Texas City Terminal Railway Company:
"I was sitting in the office of Mr. Sandberg, Vice President of our Company, talking.
"I first noticed a peculiar smoke floating across the SS High Flyer and the main slip, about 300 feet east of the General Office.
"Several minutes later, Mrs. Maude Bieg, the switchboard operators called,
"'A ship is on fire! They want the Galveston fireboat!'
"I told her, 'Call the Texas City Fire Department. Tell the powerhouse to sound the siren, and get me the Chief of the Galveston Fire Department on the phone.'
"I had the Chief's office on the phone within a minute. I said who I was, and that a ship was on fire in the main slips and asked if they would send the Galveston fireboat.
"Then I told Mrs. Bieg to get me the Bay Towing Company and the G. & H. Towing Company. I told each of them a ship was on fire, and ordered all tugs available, especially those equipped with fire-fighting apparatus.
"Mr. Mikeska, President of our Company had rushed out of the office at the first alarm. He came hurrying back, and I told him what had been done.
"He returned to the fire.
"Then I left the office, walking directly north, along a path which led to Frank's Cafe and the road into the property, until I could see along the wharf of the North Slip, where the Grand Camp was berthed.
"Flames and smoke were pouring up out of one of her hatches, making the hatchway look like a huge chimney. A large number of spectators were congregated along the road near the west end of the North Slip, and I could see our Special Officer John Fuerst and some of the other wharf employees waving them back, holding them off the wharf.
"City fire trucks were there, and the firemen were up near the ship.
"I returned to the office.
"Mrs. Bieg told me that J. C. Tompkins, Vice President of Lykes Brothers Steamship Company, owners of the High Flyer, was on the telephone.
"I told Tompkins it was the Grand Camp, the Frenchman, on fire. I described the relative position of the two vessels.
"He remarked that the High Flyer was in no particular danger as yet. I agreed with him, but told him I would rather see her moved away. He told me 'there were tugs on the way to move her if necessary.
"Then I saw Mr. Sandberg coming toward the office and held the phone until Sandberg could give Tompkins a little later information.
"After Sandberg hung up, he described to me what was going on at the fire. The Republic had sent foamite, which the firemen were getting ready to try when he came away. He mentioned that he had heard several people describing the Grand Camp as 'loaded with ammunition' and joked about the alarmists, but said there were 15 or 16 cases of small arms ammunition on the ship.
"Without any warning, a terrific force struck me in my right eye and along the right side of my face and head. I felt no sensation of falling, but was on my face on the floor, having been spun half around. I raised myself on my hands and felt warm blood raining down on my right arm and both hands. Then I heard a terrible explosion, followed in a few seconds by a more terrible one.
"The air was filled with noise of falling objects. 'From' under his desk, Sandberg called,
"'Are you all right, Grant?'
"I answered, 'Yeah, I guess so.'
"My head felt numb. I could see nothing from my right eye, and a red film of blood seemed to cover my left eye. The blood was pouring over my face from a head wound.
"When the sounds died away, I stood up and started walking out of Sandberg's office, toward the hall. Blocking my way, debris that had just missed my head was piled, as high as his desk.
"I turned and went around Sandberg's desk, feeling with my foot for him. I had not heard him leave, but concluded he had.
"As if trying to look through a thick red fog, I could see very little. I looked up, and saw the sky through holes in the roof.
"Stumbling over debris, I went to the front door. Someone called,
" 'Oh, Mr. Wheaton!'
"Two of them, I thought they were Sandberg and Mrs. Bieg, ran to me and helped me down into the yard.
"I told them, 'I'm going to have to lie down.' They eased me to the ground. I didn't know I was lying in nearly two inches of oil and water.
"I heard Sandberg say, 'There's not a car here that will run.' Then I heard a small truck, wheezing asthmatically, approaching from the direction of the Dock Road. It stopped near me, and someone asked if I could walk. Two people led me to the truck. Mrs. June Hester, U. G. Davis, Horace Delgado and a young Negro were stacked in the little truck with me.
"Driven by our General Yardmaster, J. W. Benedict, himself seriously injured, the truck ground along in low gear, rolling up and down over hills of debris.
"At last we reached the concrete highway and stopped in front of the Republic office. Ambulances from Galveston arrived at about the same time. I was led to one of the ambulances. Enroute to Galveston, the ambulance stopped three times for water, but otherwise we made excellent time in the trip to John Sealy Hospital."
CAPTAIN LEONARD EDWARD FULLER, Master of the Pan I, Pan American Refining Company
"I came into Texas City at 7:40 A.M., and docked two oil barges carrying about 80,000 barrels each, at 8:30 A.M. At about 8:45, the Company Safety Engineer, Harvey Williams, telephoned the dockmaster, asking him to tell us to get away. Bob Hayman, the dockmaster, relayed the message.
"By 9:00 o'clock, everyone was lined up watching the fire. KGBC was on the radio, warning people away. I boarded the tug Record. They have a ship to shore radio. I heard a message to the effect that the harbor tugs had left Galveston and were coming. I was in the pilothouse.
"I had just turned my head to look at the new direction finder when part of a window frame hit me on the head and face and knocked me against the bulkhead.
"I did not hear the explosion. The air was black with smoke, and I could see the sun, like a tiny red light, dancing up and down. Evidently it was the tug doing the dancing.
"It was raining iron. The mate and I got under a mattress. Falling debris cut it to pieces.
"We came out finally, and I tried to get the Record started. She wouldn't start. I have one rule with a ship: when she stops moving, I leave her.
"We went to the Pan 1, and tried to get her started. She wouldn't start.
"Some of the men were badly injured and had to be helped; some got around under their own power. Some had their clothes blown off, and some had taken them off, in case they'd have to swim.
"We dropped those not too badly injured over the side of the barge into about 2 feet of water.
I gave them sheets from the Pan I, and we started walking across the mud banks. There were 14 men with me. The fire was behind us, coming closer."
ANTON HOKANSON, ship watchman under Marine Watchman Service:
"I was working with Mr. West on the High Flyer.
"Something knocked me flat on the steel deck and held me there. When I felt no more pressure, I found I had two arms but just one good leg. I crawled toward the rail and saw that the High Flyer had broken loose from her mooring lines at both ends and was drifting toward the Wilson B. Keene.
"I held onto the rail, dragging my leg, and saw that Mr. West, Mr. Suttle, the Captain and officers were all bloody. I asked Mr. West how he was, but did not ask the others, as they were farther away.
"The High Flyer was now alongside the Wilson B. Keene; so all jumped to that vessel. I swung and got hold of a line from the Keene and fell on the deck in a pool of water. I kept on until I came to the side of a warehouse.
"Two kind-hearted fellows gave me a rope, so I climbed up out of the water.
"Two others picked me up. As they carried me along, I saw dead men along the bulkhead. The Terminal offices were all gone. At Frank's place I was put into a pick-up truck and taken to a clinic. Mr. West was picked up by the Coast Guard and taken to Galveston."
E. L. DOUGLAS, steamship clerk checking cargo onto the Wilson B. Keene:
"It was awful. The fields were covered with balls of burning sisal that had been blown from the Frenchman."
LUTZ FRIELER, Vice President of the Southwestern Sugar and Molasses Company:
"I had been on the docks about five minutes before the explosion. I asked Customs Inspector Bima,
" 'What's on the ship?'
"He said, 'It has been confirmed that there are 13 cases of ammunition on board.'
'Then why don't you leave?'
"'I want to see it puff up.'
"Back in my warehouse, I saw an orange flash. A 2 x 4 hit me, knocking me against the tank that forms one side of the warehouse. There was a terrific noise of metal hurled against the tank.
"A tremendous amount of water ran about 1 1/2 feet below me. I could barely move my head. A 3 x 6 had all the weight of the debris on it, and was holding the wreckage off me.
"I called to Ben Luhn, one of Frank Wagner's electricians working in the warehouse at the time. Ben said,
"'I'm getting out with my screwdriver. I'll get you out, too. It's a good little screwdriver; it saved my life.'
"My right arm was broken, my mouth was cut from ear to ear and hanging down on my chest. My chest was all open. Every time I'd call, blood would spurt out.
"I was afraid the Stone Oil lines, running under our plant, would catch on fire. I did not want to burn. I passed out."
J. W. BRADFORD, Guard, on duty at Carbide Dock, just west of the South Slip:
"The first explosion took me off the platform and landed me in the street 40 or 50 feet away. Some of the Republic men picked me up, and we all lay alongside the big cement wall to protect ourselves from falling steel. All the oil and gasoline lines along the dock were broken; oil and gasoline were going 15 or 20 feet high when all the docks caught fire.
"All the men that could were running to get out of danger.
"I jumped into what was left of my car, loaded it with men and got it started. We got out over the dike."
EDWARD L. VENS0N:
"I was standing in the middle of the floor of the machine shop at the Republic Oil Refining Company. There was a great noise that sounded like the catalyst cracking unit had exploded. I was pushed across the floor for several feet, but did not lose my balance.
"Being a first-aid instructor, I assisted the nurse with the injured. Soon it was apparent that there were more than we could care for. We went out in the highway and began to load people into cars to send them to La Marque to our Company doctor. These first people were Republic employees.
"Then the injured began coming in from the dock area. They walked, crawled, rode in cars or trucks. There were men with their ears blown off, sides of their faces hanging down, with holes in their sides, arms broken, bones showing. Except for shorts and shoes, they wore no clothes. There were injured women, too, mostly in cars, but in the same physical condition as the men.
"As soon as the ambulances began to come in, we had blankets to wrap the people.
"One large man, about 6-4, came slowly walking up the road. He held a bloody towel around his head with both hands. Blood ran down his shirt and pants, ran off his shoes. "A man from the dock area reported that there were several men trapped under debris in Warehouse '0.'
"Four or five of us started to the docks, going down beside the warehouses as there did not seem to be any fire in that area. About halfway to the docks, the road became so filled with steel and concrete debris that I was afraid to try to go any farther in the truck, so we walked the rest of the way. The fire in No. 2 Warehouse was fairly bad.
"When we got to the Texas City Terminal Railway roundhouse, about six men were hunting for people in the debris.
"There were a number of the office force still in the wreckage of the Joint Agency Building. Mr. Ludwig was going around the demolished building, calling to people in the wreckage to try to be calm as we were doing all we could. I soon saw we needed heavier equipment, and went back to get a dragline.
"When I got back to the Plant, the Fort Crockett (Galveston) wrecking crew was moving in."
GEORGE GILL, Carbide & Carbon Chemicals Corporation:
"We loaded a flat bed truck with equipment from the plant fire truck and first-aid supplies. Dr. Blair, meanwhile, had summoned Dr. Dernehl and one of the nurses from the Dispensary, loaded some additional first-aid supplies into a Company car and led us to the scene of the blast.
"At the Seatrain slip, we found many dead and injured. Advance by truck at this point was impossible, because the road was blocked by a large barge blown out of the water by the blast.
"Ted Nolen told me he had climbed a steel column in the Monsanto plant and could hear
10 or 12 people crying for help. We tried to get into the area, but inflammable material in and around the warehouse had started hot fires between us and the building.
"We tried clearing out a path with our hand fire extinguishers, but to no avail. The building was afire inside and out, a complete mass of flaming rubble. I assumed all the persons inside were either dead or so pinned down that it would be impossible for a small group such as we to clear away enough rubble to effect a rescue."
"TUCKY" BOBBITT, Maintenance Department Head, Carbide:
"I saw that to effect a rescue of the people who were on the far side of the drainage ditch running transversely from Monsanto in a general southwesterly direction toward the Southport tank farms, some road building would have to be done.
"I rounded up 15 dump trucks, several dozers, dumped 30 tons of dirt into the ditch, and utilized two dozers to blade off the ground, then hauled 15 loads of shell to cover this new road. This operation took approximately 1 1/2 hours."
NORMAN EUGENE OLIVER, Business Agent for the A. F. of L. Union workers of the
"I went into the Monsanto area, in search of my brother Dell (William Adell Oliver).
"The place was strewn with mangled, dead bodies. One was blown into the fence. I don't see how they ever got him out.
"Treet and I carried out five all together, wading through oil and water up to our knees, taking them to the intersection of the Dock Road and the Monsanto Road.
"There was a big Negro who helped carry bodies out, He'd say, 'There's somebody in there I can get out.' He kept working after I gave out. He was the strongest man I ever saw. He could carry a man by himself."
RICHARD BENEDICT, Labor Leader, and Demolition man with the 847th, 337th and
296th Combat Engineers, World War II:
"I was knocked into a pit. When the big wave passed, I was surprised I was still alive, and knew I'd better pull myself together and crawl out.
I came to '0,' 'A' and 'B' Warehouses, turning people over, looking for my brother.
"Between the grain elevator and the Molasses Co. I met Bill Howell. His wife was dragging him down the road. I saw he had a broken leg and his throat was cut. I helped her carry him. We set him up in the old Coast Guard area."
HAROLD BAUMGARTNER, age 12:
"I was studying my lessons by the window and watching the boat on fire. I got on my bicycle and went near the fire. I was blown off my bicycle about 20 feet. I got up and started running, and the second time I was blown about 20 feet again.
"It was a lot worse than a hurricane. I crawled in a hole about 4 inches wide. There was a Negro in a garage praying for all he was worth. He was not hurt.
"I ran by plenty of dead, hurt, dying people. I ran all the way home as fast as I could. I knew my dad (Chief H. J. Baumgartner) was right in the middle of it all. I will never go to see a fire again."
ROGER B0LINO, colored:
"I was lying across the bed and received a few glancing licks across the head and the left side of my face was cut real bad. I made it to the door when the room I had just left went down.
"I broke out of the house and ran down the road and wound up in Dickinson (10 miles) where I was treated."
MRS. L. H. McINTIRE
"We were given a tiny baby whose identity we did not learn for several hours."
"When I got home, my mother, Mrs. Dick Wilson, had the premature Reeves twins, Mike Reeves and Carol Sue Gately and Terry Boyd to care for.
"There was a hole in the ceiling, a hole about 12 feet deep in the front yard, a mile away from the docks.
"Mrs. Joseph B. Smith, our neighbors had her face bashed in by a door. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where they wired all her bones and teeth back in place."
FRED LINTON, Emken Funeral Home:
"I went to the City Hall. About 9:30, 20 minutes after the blast, a girl and I put Father Roach on a bus. He didn't say a word. He was beyond talking.
"I lined up trucks and got an old ambulance I'd sold to Lawrence Smith's brother. Anything on wheels served.
"People began bringing bodies in. Emkens has been here so long, people have come to think of it as a place for the dead."
MRS. H. B. MOORE, former State Representative from this District:
"I stood at the window of my home, 8 Ninth Avenue North. The first explosion showered me with glass, knocking me down. My home, a mile from the scene of the explosion, of brick and hollow tile construction, rocked on its foundation.
"I was on the stairs when the second blast threw me against the wall. Glass and parts of window frames and doors split and torn from hinges, along with furniture, flew across rooms facing south. The house was materially damaged, but I sustained only cuts and bruises. Several pieces of steel weighing from several pounds to 20 or more are in my yard."
Mrs. C. P. GREMILLI0N:
"I threw my hand over the top of my baby's bead and ran to the north part of the house. Later the doctor said, 'How fortunate that glass was sent into your hand!'"
ELIZABETH COOPER (Mrs. Gordon):
"I saw fire shoot upward, huge pieces of debris reached a plane that was flying overhead, then the plane broke into pieces and fell into the fire."
SALLY WEHMEYER, Wehmeyer-Powell Funeral Chapel:
"Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Graham called to me that Mrs. L. D Griffith was seriously injured.
"I got our emergency ambulance and drove her to the Beeler-Manske Clinic.
"Everything was utter bedlam. Cars were being driven on the wrong side of the street; men, women and children were running about in their night clothes, some screaming and crying and others just standing with blank, stunned looks on their faces."
LITTLE JILL DUGAT:
"Mattie put me in the closet. When she let me out, I saw she had done something bad to our house."
EVA HOWARD, first grade teacher, Danforth Elementary School:
"Hazel Wafford, a pupil in my afternoon class, ran up. She was oil covered and panting. She had run from the docks. She sobbed,
"'My daddy was on a boat, working. He was thrown in the air. I saw him.'"
HOWARD LYNN MEREDITH, third grade pupil:
"When the first explosion came, one wall caved in. All the windows blew out. My teacher said, 'Run!'
"When I was at the door, I saw two children fallen down.
"When I was a block from school, I heard a boy say,
" 'I wonder if my mother is dead?'
"I ran the rest of the way home, because I thought my mother and father might be hurt or dead.
"I was happy to find that they were not hurt or dead."
ELOISE CAMERON, substitute teacher:
"The blast knocked me down. The children crowded at the door. I discovered the knob was blown off. The children were screaming hysterically,
"'I want out! I want out!'
"I thought of the New London disaster. We'll all be dead when they find us!
"Charlie Rivers, a boy from H5, crawled in over the transom. With his help, I passed each of the 27 children over the transom to be caught on the other side by two teachers. I don't know who they were. Then Charlie and I crawled over."
KARL BURNS, at Central High School, on the opposite side of the block:
"I think I was the first one out in the hall. Glass was everywhere.
"I started outside by one door, but metal was falling so much that I went out another."
LEVERIA WILLIAMS, colored:
"I was at Booker T. Washington School. I'm in Miss Rosalie Curry's room. She helped the children out. My arm was cut bad. I ran home to get my blind 65-year-old grandfather. Mabel helped me with him. Bertha King, my grandmother, met us and we walked out onto the Kemah Road."
CHARLES LERMAN, owner of Clark's Department
"I fell or was thrown to the floor, pulling my wife with me. We glanced at the ceiling, the walls seemed to expand, and the roof came down upon us. My wife said, 'God help us!'
"We were pinned under the ceiling. My brother-in-law, Leon Kauftheil, pulled us out
"Abe Klotzman, 33 months in the Pacific said,
" ' If this would have happened in the Navy, the orders would have been scuddle the ship!'
R. J. MESKILL, Lt. Col. U. S. Army, Ret., Texas City Postmaster:
"I felt as if I were lifted from the floor, chair and all, and as suddenly put back down. I dropped on my hands and knees to the floor. An instant later I was covered with glass, window screen, light bulbs and what have you.
"As soon as I could get up and shake the debris off my back and shoulders, I instructed the post office personnel to go home and look after their families, but if possible to return within two hours.
"Accompanied by Mr. Gee, I checked all money drawers and safes."
THELMA DYESS, veteran telephone operator:
"The girls on the picket lines dropped their signs and ran for the office, but there was so much debris that many were unable to take their places at the switchboard. Standing up, reaching over, they worked as best they could. As a position was put into working order, an operator took over.
"The plant department boys were busy setting up telephones in front of the traffic department for public emergency use."
BEN POWELL, Showboat Drug Store:
"The streets were jammed with cars carrying the dead and injured to the clinics, all located on Sixth Street, as is our store. People swarmed about. Tommy Green and I set up a first-aid station in front of the store. Some ladies came by and helped. We bandaged everyone, whites, Negroes, Mexicans."
PETE PETERMAN, Manager of Michael's Jewelry Store:
"I had just stepped out of my private office at the back of the store.
The front of the store came toward me, like a shower of rain.
"J. L. Wilson came in with his hat full of diamond rings he had picked up off our sidewalk. I put them, hat and all, into our safe."
"Searching for my father-in-law, I drove from clinic to clinic, and then toward the docks. I was stopped in the Latin-American quarter and told I might proceed on foot.
"The dead and dying were everywhere. I saw the quiet bodies of small children. But others
were alive and could be saved, so I joined men near the wreckage of Warehouse 'O,' getting the living out into the open where they could be seen and picked up. I never recognized anyone; they were all so black with oil and molasses."
"I went to the Schmidt.Twidwell Clinic to help. I saw blood and misery that day I don't care to witness again: a man minus an arm, a 12-year-old boy with his face split open, the anxious faces of people looking for relatives."
MRS. SALLIE V00RHEE5, Texas City Heights, about 21/2 miles west of the dock
"A long iron rail accompanied by a large bundle of small pieces of iron sailed by in the air."
J. D. GRIFFIN, teacher at the Heights Elementary School:
"The first thing I knew, I was outside, knee deep in kids hollering, 'Daddy! Daddy! My daddy works down on the docks!' We lost a few windows- nobody was hurt."
MRS. F. 3. WHITE:
"I arrived at the Schmidt~Twidwell Clinic about 10 minutes after the blast. Glass, mixed with insulation from the walls, covered the floor. The place was crowded with bloody patients, women and children at first, and then the men from the docks began coming in.
"Wilbur Strong, Kermit Agee and Mr. Moon, a first-aid man from one of the plants worked like Trojans.
"All the staff was there: Mrs. Helen Landry, Nurse in charge; Mrs. Louise Luke, Mrs. Ray Huey, and Mrs. Edith Carrague, nurses; and aides like myself, Mrs. Charles L. Garner, Mrs.
C. P. Landry, and volunteers Mesdames Seth Gibson and Louise Willis; Mrs. Blair Peterson came in with the wives of Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Twidwell. Dr. Duke and Dr. Lilley of the DukeLilley Clinic in Goose Creek were there, too."
MRS. J. C. EVERHART:
"I was seated on the Texas City side of the bus, about four miles from Texas City. I watched a plane headed toward the scene of the fire.
"The detonation raised the bus, dropping it back down, almost throwing it off the highway. 1 saw the forms of men thrown into the air. I saw the men in the plane thrown out and the plane spinning downward into the burning inferno."
FRED DOWDY, Assistant Chief of Texas City Volunteer Fire Department:
"I was in San Leon, watching the fire. I saw two explosions one on the
ship, one in the air above it.
"When I got to the docks, I found two fire trucks, completely dilapidated, and then I went looking for firemen, but could not find any.
"I went back to the road where there was no debris and found the Texas City Heights fire truck driven by Joe Ripley. Then the Dickinson truck came in; then Camp Wallace, Ellington Field.
"The Fire Chiefs from Ellington Field and Camp Wallace went with me to see where we could locate water. Before long we had a warning to get out. All fire equipment in that area was dispatched back to a lot across from the City Auditorium."
MRS. HELEN CLOUGH, of Station KLUF (Galveston):
"Our first airing of the disaster was at 9:15 A.M., April 16.
"Our station was soon flocked with persons looking for friends and relatives, many of them crying and begging for help. All of them were dazed."
JOHN OBENDORFER, County Tax Assessor & Collector:
"My offices are in the Galveston County Courthouse, 16 miles from Texas City. Windows were blown out, chairs were cut as glass flew 20 feet across the room.
"Everyone ran out of the Courthouse, into the street. A handbag belonging to one of my women employees had blown out the window and was found on the lawn 20 feet away."
BILLIE CALDWELL, office employee of John Sealy Hospital, Galveston:
"The percussion made my ears pop. I thought the end of the world had come.
"We had the news on the teletype machine immediately. The hall filled with doctors, nurses, assembling by my window, ready to go to Texas City with emergency equipment. The office staff-Mr. F. D. Dorsett, Mrs. Mary Evers, Miss Mary Gutierez and Miss Sadie Saltz - and I were very busy after that."
MRS. VERA M. WANDLESS, Assistant Housekeeper, John Sealy Hospital:
"Dr. B. I. Burns and Dr. Chauncey Leake were issuing orders for every available bed to be put in the clinic building. Work went fast."
MARION KELLER, Secretary in Pharmacy, John Sealy Hospital:
"Doctors were running in and out to get supplies to take to Texas City. Among the first to leave were Dr. Darwin and Dr. Cooley. Miss Coleman was busy helping them get supplies to take.
"Mr. Willis rushed to Camp Wallace to get a special solution to remove oil and dirt. Mrs. Willis came in to help.
"Eula Henderson filled large containers with vaseline, Fred Hayward delivered supplies within the hospital. Eula Mae Jacquo filled bottles with medicines we thought might be called for. Marion Keller was locating all available tetanus antitoxin and tetanus antitoxin gas gangrene.
"Mr. Galloway from Central Drug brought us all available biologicals. King Holly and Bob Campbell, Upjohn and Squibb salesmen, helped obtain supplies and filled prescriptions and dispense drugs, as did Jess Moreman.
"Ida and Worth Walton made up large quantities of penicillin solutions. Joel Bugg, Winthrop salesman, got novocain from headquarters.
"By this time, they were calling for Gas Gangrene Antitoxin, and although we don't keep a large supply, we were able to meet the first demands before E. R. Squibb had a large shipment sent in."
The first awful moments of the disaster were over. News was reaching the outside world through means of radio, telephone, telegraph. Help had come and more was coming. Some of the victims had been given 'first aid and dismissed. People with bandaged heads, arms in slings, walked along the streets. Storekeepers swept glass from their places of business.
OSCAR JORDAN, fireman:
"When I got to the docks, around 10 o'clock, crews were already at work. Dan Woods joined Joe Clement and me. We looked in Warehouse 'O.' They were putting the dead aside, just looking for the living. We tried to help identify victims, but they were so bloated we could hardly tell they were men, much less who they were.
"We went to the morgue to help out there. Many of the victims just looked like people asleep. One Negro had only a foot missing; he looked perfect, otherwise. Then there were others completely mangled."
MARY STAFFORD (Mrs. Earl):
"In less than an hour after the explosion, the tiny Texas City airport became a buzz of activity. Until CAA established an emergency control tower, there was no tower to direct traffic, and the fellows stood in the middle of the runways, directing aircraft, large and small, as best they could with gestures of their hands and arms."
CHIEF W. M. PAYNE, who came to Texas City shortly after the blast, helped organize
the out-of-town police officers sent there to help:
"I saw 21 blackened and twisted bodies taken into one store building. The explosion twisted their arms and legs off in some cases, while in others it split their heads open like a watermelon."
"About one o'clock, Gordon came back and said that someone had told him Dad was in a Galveston hospital, seriously injured. Together, we searched all the hospitals.
"We met many people we knew, searching, searching-"
LUTZ FRIELER, pinned under the wreckage of the Southwest Sugar and Molasses
"When I woke up, there was an airplane flying overhead. I heard cars being moved about me. I hollered. Nobody seemed to bother.
"About 1:30 P. M., a party was hauling out cars around my Company's premises.
"Someone said, 'Still one alive in there, close to the tank.'
"A loudspeaker blared, 'Run!'
"Someone else said, 'Just get this one man out.'
"They dug me out. There were several people; I recognized Jimmy Matthews and one of his boys, Lester Lee.
"Someone said, 'God, you look awful.'
"An ambulance took me to the Schmidt-Twidwell Clinic. My wife was there and gave me some blood. A Venetian blind was used for a splint for my arm. Dr. George Bruce assisted Dr Schmidt in sewing up my face, taking 80 stitches. They cut off my clothes, wrapped me in blankets and we started to Houston for Dr. Duncan McKeever's office."
MRS. LUTZ FRIELER:
"I'll never forget that wild ambulance ride. I thought, If this thing turns over, our child will be without either parent!"
North of town, on the Kemah Road, by two o'clock many people had collected.
Some sat listlessly about, eating sandwiches, drinking bottled drinks. Others
stared toward the pillars of smoke that darkened the landscape to the south.
Many had pets: a monkey chattered quietly, a parrot ruffled his feathers, dogs
sniffed about. Small children huddled near frightened parents. Some were in
cars. More were afoot. A bus came by and picked up those who wished to leave.
The homes of these people were demolished or badly damaged. Many had neither present
nor future plans, only a dull, aching, apprehensive misery deepened by an incomplete family
MRS. M. N. NELSON, at Danforth Clinic:
"I have been here since early morning, right after the explosion and the clock says 3:00. There have been so many worse cases; Armelia's little head has not been stitched up yet.
"Once this morning they told me to put my baby on the operating table. Just then one of mothers neighbors brought his wife in. They had been watching the fire. Although shocked himself, he had carried her here in his arms. The nurse said,
'Put your wife on the table, sir.'
"He said, 'I can't; I can't let go of her. I'm holding her insides in.'
"Somehow, they got her on the table. She recognized her pastor, Rev. Roland P. Hood.
"'It's too much, I just can't take it, Brother Hood!'
"When they took her off the table, she was dead."
BEN C. POWELL, Showboat Drugstore:
"We started giving out whiskey at about 3:00 p.m. The doctors used it for shock and the morticians were beginning to need something to keep them going in their horrible job."
NORMAN EUGENE OLIVER:
"At the Marine Hospital, while searching for my brother Dell, I saw a 190-pound man, the first person Treet and I had taken out of the Monsanto area. The doctor asked me if he had breathed gas, but he had not. There was not a mark on him, yet he died."
MRS. HELEN CL0UGH, Station KLUF:
"The afternoon of the 16th, we began to see the need of some sort of file systems in order to keep track of the names, to avoid too much repetition. This filing was done by my son, Braden Clough, and by John Wagner."
THEROLE T. LEMEN, Night Superintendent, Pan American Refining Co.:
"When I got out to the plant, about 4:00 P.M., I found it still running except the "Cat" (catalytic unit) which was down for reconditioning.
"By that time, the State Police had thrown a block around the place and a number of our men could not get into the plant. We were short about 34 men, and had to hold over that many from the day shift."
FINE G. BEDFORD, Galveston attorney, in Texas City:
"If I'd stayed home and listened to my radio, I'd know more than I do now. I've been everywhere, and still I don't have a clear overall picture.
BILL SPRAGUE from KPRC Newsroom to NBC, 5:02 P.M.:
"A KPRC representative in Galveston reports that there is still no way to estimate accurately the number of casualties brought into Galveston.
'The John Sealy Hospital, St. Mary's Infirmary, the Marine Hospital, the post facilities at Fort Crockett and an aid station set up at La Marque, Texas, are full to overflowing."
PAT FLAHERTY, 5:45 P.M., KPRC, from Texas City:
"In the temporary morgue 100 yards from our broadcast points there are an estimated 200 bodies being identified and embalmed. Once the bodies are identified, they are moved several blocks away to the floor of the High School Gymnasium. From that point the bodies are moved to the regular mortuaries in the Texas City area as directed by relatives or friends claiming the bodies. At this point of our broadcast, hearses are lined up as far as two blocks away, waiting to transport the dead."
BILL SPRAGUE, KPRC Newsroom, to NBC, 6:15 P.M.:
"All neighboring cities and towns have mobilized their resources to lend aid to the disaster victims. Ambulance and firefighting units have flocked to the stricken area from points as far away as Port Arthur. Troops from Fort Crockett in Galveston are in control to guard against looting.
"In Houston, the City Auditorium has been converted into an emergency ward, with a makeshift staff of military and civilian personnel still receiving patients."
PAT FLAHERTY, from Texas City to NBC, 6:20 P.M.:
"Governor Jester of the State of Texas and General Wainwright, commanding General of the United States Fourth Army, are on the scene. They are inspecting the disaster area, checking for further relief from the standpoint of the State of Texas and the United States Army.
"There is a state of emergency. but no martial law has been declared.
"Gas masks are still in order, but as yet the offshore wind is still in effect, blowing the heavy black smoke out into the Gulf.
THEROLE T. LEMEN:
"About 8:00 P.M., we received a report that another ship was expected to blow up any minute. While I was trying to find out the particulars, Dr. Broderson came out. He got busy on the phone and was told there was no foundation for the report. He decided to let the plant continue to operate."
"About 8:00 P.M., gas masks were brought to the telephone office and distributed. The Company sent all the women employees home."
BILL SPRAGUE, from KPRC Newsroom, 8:24 P.M.:
"Texas City is anticipating another explosion. According to reports from the scene, the entire city has been ordered abandoned. Another ship carrying explosives has caught fire."
BILL SPRAGUE, from KPRC Newsroom, to NBC,
10:19 P.M.: -
"Last minute details of police officers went from house to house early this evening warning all residents to get out of town. A sound truck rumbled through the wreckage of the devastated community bawling the evacuation instructions.
"But, after a while, when no explosion took place, the panic began to die down. Then fire department officials issued the word that the second explosion probably would not take place after all.
"These reports and counter-reports are only typical of the confusion which has reigned all day in the city whose trim white cottages have been reduced to lifeless shells."
PAT FLAHERTY, from Texas City to NBC, 10:30 P.M.:
"At this time, Texas City is very much deserted. Most of the residents heeded the warning to evacuate because of the imminent danger of another ship exploding in the dock area."
BILL WHITMORE, from KPRC Newsroom to NBC, 10:34 P.M.:
"Here is the picture as I saw it through the day at Texas City. The center of the rescue and relief work is the town's damaged City Hall, where headquarters have been set up to handle all activities.
"The High School Gymnasium and a nearby garage have been turned into a morgue where
throughout the day several hundred victims were brought through. The wounded were quickly evacuated from the area.
"It is safe to say every house in Texas City, a town of 15,000 residents, suffered at least some damage. The business district, about half a mile or so from the scene of the blasts, is a shambles. A residential area between the downtown sector and the plants that suffered the greatest damage on the waterfront also is all but destroyed.
"Huge hunks of steel lie in the streets, blown many hundred yards from the ship whose initial explosion caused the conflagration. Every house in at least a 10-block.square area is no longer livable."
EARL BRANCH, Texas City florist:
"It was a horrible day. A day when men and women went to work and did not come home."
Wednesday, April 16, was over. Without change in tempo, without cessation of labor in the still burning dock area, without promise of release from pain except through narcotic unconsciousness or at the hand of the Grim Reaper, Wednesday, April 16, merged into Thursday, April 17. Truly a horrible day, a day to be remembered by those who had endured the long, cruel hours.
THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 1947
PAT FALHERTY, KPRC, from Texas City, 12:05 A. M.:
"There is a feeling of tenseness throughout the city. Everyone in the area here is on special duty-all working to relieve the state of emergency, but it is evident that the explosion warning of earlier this evening left its mark on these relief and rescue workers.
"It has been definitely established that the warning was well founded and authoritative. There is an impending danger of another explosion in the Texas City dock area. Another ship is said to be on fire, and it is feared that the vessel will explode.
"The identity of the ship has not been established, nor has there been any definite information as to its cargo. However, there is danger of another explosion."
MRS. DALLAS WHITE, John Scaly Hospital:
"At last my search has ended, Bill and I found his father, my husband, just before he died at 12:50. It was some comfort to tell him goodbye."
BEN KAPLAN, KTHT, from Texas City:
"Guy and I have been on the water front so long that the flames, the smoke, the agonies, have become all too familiar. We filled our wire recorder and headed for our KTHT mike near the telephone building.
"We interviewed Sandberg, who told us he had ordered the removal of the High Flyer from the harbor. We interviewed two Houston nurses, and a young war veteran who'd been through Coventry. 1 urged our County Judge Glenn Perry and the County Psychiatrist, Dr. C. W. Dwyer, and their wives to take a trip to the water front.
"I was at the mike, the sky lit up and seconds later the blast came. (At 1:10 A.M., the High Flyer blew up.) This explosion was broadcast, along with the honest fear in my voice, the zoom of a piece of debris that fell within feet of us, and the honk of a horn as one of our number scrambled from the station wagon.
"I was frightened, but kept talking. All of us hit the dirt. Then we continued with detailed descriptions of 'live' interviews with victims of the second explosion, many of whom were Houstonians."
THEROLE T. LEMEN:
"It looked just like a giant bomb they send up on the Fourth of July with sparkles shooting out in all directions.
"Then a tank in the Humble tank farm went up, then a tank in the Republic tank farm, just across the fence from our tank farm. Then there was another explosion down between me and the docks which sounded as though it might be a butane tank.
"The fire in the Republic tank farm was too close to our tanks and to a Mae West and three spheres of the Warren Petroleum Co. butane and propane to suit me, so I decided it was time to shut down."
"All the windows we put back in so carefully this morning are out again! And we're a mile and a half away."
"The furniture fell over, part of the stucco fell from the outside walls, the lights went out. We all crawled from the front to the back of the house, to the back yard. A huge piece of the High Flyer had buried itself in the yard. We decided to leave town."
LT. L. D. PYLE, of Houston Police Department:
"While I was en route to the docks, the SS High Flyer blew up, and for the second time
in less than 24 hours, Texas City was screaming alive.
"As though a giant's hand had tried to push it into the grounds the patrol car in which I was riding was squashed down. After the air stopped raining metal, I drove back to help the wounded. As the roof of the car was a good six inches lower, we all had to bend over. I sustained an injured arm."
A. E. BOEHLER:
"My back was to the ship when it exploded. Although I was 500 feet away, the concussions, which came in waves and lasted about 3 seconds, knocked me flat.
"A man about 5 feet away from me was hit by a piece of steel which almost ripped his head off.
"Some object hit the Red Cross woman who had served me; it knocked her down, but I don't think she was killed. She was about 200 feet from me."
C. D. MILES, SR.:
"Douglas was thrown 20 feet from the tractor. Four tractors were working in the dock area at the time, and the others (none belonging to me) were torn up while mine was undamaged."
MRS. HELEN CLOUGH, of Radio Station KLUF, Galveston:
"Lee had just finished talking to the editor of a London, England, newspaper who had called trans-Atlantic. He wanted to know about the earlier explosions of course."
PETE PETERMAN, Galveston:
"My wife had heard the High Flyer would blow up; it was all over Galveston. I told her it was just a rumor. When it did blow up, our windows rattled, and she said, 'Well, there goes your rumor.'"
LINDA LOU SCARBROUGH, near Vidor, about 80 miles from Texas City:
"Windows rattled; I woke up. Although the morning explosion did no damage to our school, this one broke windows and cracked plaster."
MRS. F. C. PLUMMER:
"The jar woke me in Port Arthur, about 90 miles from Texas City."
ON THE EDITORIAL PAGE of The Galveston News, April 17:
"The News asks Galvestonians to demonstrate their inherent warmness of heart by contributing funds now for the relief of those in Texas City who are in need as a result of this major disaster. Contributions will be received at the business office of the News, and will be distributed through the proper channels.
"Galveston, whose experience with catastrophe on a major scale still remains
minds of many of its citizens, extends its warmest and most heartfelt sympathy.
"Texas City's homes, schools, business houses and industries are all damaged; we do not yet know how many of her citizens are dead; thousands are injured. But Texas City will recover, and Galveston will help her."
JANET WOOD, St. Mary's Infirmary, Galveston:
"I came on duty at 7:00 A.M. We have three Frenchmen from the SS Grand Camp in the same ward. They cannot speak English. They just lie, sometimes saying something to each other. Fate has placed them in such an equivocal position! I do what I can for them."
FRED DOWDY, Asst. Fire Chief:
"Plenty of men and plenty of foamite, but no water to dissolve the foamite. Foamite is poured into a big hopper, water goes through underneath, and the foamite comes out in liquid form. Only time we can do anything with oil fires is when we use water from Stone Oil's reservoir."
"Thursday was a quiet day in Texas City, a dazed day. There was a solemn stillness that hung over the wrecked buildings, the shattered glass, the waiting people, and even on us outsiders who came in to help."
MRS. CARL A. RUST, writer for The Galveston 7s~Tews:
"Mrs. Howell told a harrowing story about putting her four children into the car and driving toward the dock area to see if her husband was all right.
"The blockade had not yet been put up, but policemen yelled to her to get out of the way of the fire trucks. She went forward regardless. Another and another yelled at her to get out of the way. At last, at the railroad tracks in front of the Monsanto, a policeman bawled,
"'Get that car off the road!'
"Immediately she parked, thinking she would leave as soon as the fire trucks got by.
"Her 13-year-old son, Lewis, jumped out, and, although she called to him to come back, he ran toward the fire.
"She told her 12-year-old daughter, Mary Rowe, to go after her brother. Mary Rowe returned, reporting she could not locate Lewis.
"Soon after the first explosion, the mother jumped out of the car and started running toward the scene. She saw her husband, covered with blood, crawling up the railroad tracks from the docks. She told him that their two children were in the area, adding,
"'Go after them and don't come back without them.'
"Just then the second blast came, throwing her into a pool of oily water. A policeman pulled her out and started to send her by ambulance to a hospital. She told him she would not leave without her children.
"The policeman found Lewis dead. Mary Rowe, who had run home to 15th Avenue North, with a broken jaw, burst eardrums and other injuries, could not then be found.
"The father died in the dock area. Mother and daughter were hospitalized and will recover. The children that remained in the car were uninjured. Mr. Howell's brother also died."
"I worked in the morgue all day, mainly identifying people. At first, I thought I couldn't do it, but I soon found that to help someone in trouble, I could."
SGT. R. V. SCHORM
"I was supervising a crew of rescue workers searching for bodies when I saw a 30-year-old Texas City man pick up a woman's purse from the debris and take from it a small coin purse, which he slipped into his pocket. I threatened to search him 'before all your townspeople.' The man handed over the purse containing $26 and a gold wrist watch. The man was then escorted through the angry crowd and jailed. The police were too busy to watch everything, though, and there was some looting."
Thursday, at midnight. Under cover of the darkness there approached the Texas
City water front little boats, unlighted, moved by oars dipped with swift quietness
into the darksome waters of the Bay. Far above the cordon of police set up to
keep out just such as they, swarthy men, roughly dressed, crept quietly ashore,
joined rescue parties searching the endless wreckage for bodies dear to those
These late arrivals, carrion following in the wake of death, worked well. Fingers once adorned with costly rings were missing from the corpses later laid out in the morgues. Purses with identification complete were stripped of money. Devoid of pity, lacking conscience, ever do the jackal crew complete their grisly tasks with grim efficiency, then fade into the night.
FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 1947
THE GALVESTON News said editorially:
"It may be only a trick of fate which saved Galveston from the disaster which wrecked Texas City. The ill-fated French ship Grand Camp was due to be shifted to this port Wednesday night. We need but little imagination to visualize the effect the explosion would have had on Galveston. While Galveston weeps with Texas City in its sorrow, it also is prayerfully thankful for its own escape.
"Galveston, with its own experience of death-dealing disaster in the past, is quick to react when other communities suffer.
"While Texas City suffers, Galveston will continue to fulfill its duty to help in every way possible. Out of the disaster should come a firm bond of intercity co-operation, seeking the realization of the hope that the two communities will thrive and prosper together. Galvestonians have opened their homes and their hearts to the residents of Texas City. May they never be closed."
THE BEAUMONT Enterprise said editorially:
"It is a tragic coincidence that the two worst disasters in Texas history, and two of the worst in the nation's history, occurred within a few miles of each other on the Texas coast.
"Texas City, where explosions and fires caused heavy loss of life, is about 10 miles distant from Galveston, where the great storm of 1900 caused an estimated loss of 5,000 lives, and destruction of property valued at about $17,000,000.
"But the spirit of Galveston's people was undaunted by this calamity. They set to work to rebuild.
"Texas City's disaster was different; but here, too, the dauntless spirit of the people is already asserting itself. Texas City will rebuild. In due time, it will be more important and more prosperous industrially than it was before the exploding ship touched off a disaster that shocked a nation."
PAT FLAHERTY, from Texas City, 6:48 A.M.:
"The clean-up operation in the downtown and residential areas of Texas City is under way. Army and Navy personnel are setting an example in their well-known operation of 'policing up the area.'
'Police officers drafted onlookers and accepted the services of volunteers to assist in some of the minor clean-up work. There has been a very distinct sound of hammer and nail work in the various parts of the city.
"The Houston chapter of the Associated General Contractors has offered such industrial machinery as bulldozers, cranes, draglines and other equipment for use in cleaning the devastated industrial areas. The Master Plumbers Association of Houston has offered emergency assistance to city officials."
PAT FLAHERTY, from Texas City to NBC, 7:00 A.M.:
"The Texas City Relief Organization has been formed here with Carl Nessler serving as chairman. This Texas City Relief Organization will serve as the local agency for receiving such cash donations and rendering financial aid as and where it is needed in the Texas City area.
"The fires are definitely under control, and apparently the system of isolating the fire area has been successful."
MRS. J. M. HOGAN, nurse at John Sealy Hospital:
"I went into the kitchen when I first came, at 7:00 A.M. One of the colored maids, who had worked all night, was squeezing oranges. She said she was tired and was going home. I told her,
"'Whenever you do something for someone in trouble or pain, it is a stepping stone across the River Jordan. I think God was busy last night, keeping track of all the things everyone did to help.'
"Grinning, she picked up another orange."
PAT FLAHERTY, from Texas City, KPRC, 12:02 P.M.:
"The fires continue to burn here in Texas City. There was a continued series of thunder-like explosions in the night. They were dangerous in the immediate area of the explosions, but this area was evacuated late yesterday to the extent of three-quarters of a mile."
THE TEXAS CITY Sun, April 18, handbill size and printed on both sides, carried the first reconstruction story, the announcement that the Monsanto Chemical Plant would be rebuilt in Texas City.
THE HOUSTON Press, April 18, said editorially:
"Those who have returned from Texas City are fulsome in their praise of the firemen, police, deputies and others who went to the stricken city from Houston and other communities, to keep the peace and order, and to prevent the chaos that so often prevails during such emergencies.
"As order was kept, doctors and nurses worked under the greatest difficulties with the injured and it is due to this efficiency that the death list is not as high as was at first feared."
PAT FLAHERTY, from KPRC Newsroom, 5:45 P.M.:
"Here is the situation as I left Texas City about an hour and a half ago. The fire area in the dock and industrial sections has been reduced to three large fires - three diminishing blazes of crude oil - huge oil tanks which boil and collapse and then cause the oil to burst into fire and spill over into the dock area.
"The dock and industrial area is a mass of complete destruction - wreckage and debris which will take months to clear away.
"There will be no rescue squads working in the area tonight. The workers will be called off the gruelling task for needed rest, and to prepare for a fresh start in the morning."
SATURDAY, APRIL 19, 1947
THE BEAUMONT Enterprise said editorially:
"Perhaps one of the agencies that hurried to the relief of Texas City has not been given as much credit by press and radio as it should receive. That organization is the U. S. Army."
JANET WOOD, St. Mary's Infirmary:
"Just hearing that everyone is sending sympathy and gifts is cheering the patients more than all the drugs and medicines."
FRED DOWDY, Acting Fire Chief:
"Worked in the Republic today; couldn't get to the Humble and Continental until debris was cleared away enough to get water from the Bay. Thursday night the War Assets Fire Equipment came in, 3 pumpers and 1 hose wagon, then 2 more pumpers. Thanks to the generosity of everyone, we have always had enough equipment and fighters; our worst difficulty has been lack of water and inability to get close enough to fight the fires, because of the intense heat."
"I identified the body of Mr. Alfred Boyd Couch, postal employee, at the temporary morgue across from the Postoffice.
"Mr. Couch had checked out for breakfast, and he and his wife went down to see the fire. Mrs. Couch died in a Galveston hospital yesterday."
THE HOUSTON Chronicle, April 19, 1947, said editorially:
"Texas City is just now coming out of the shock of the terrific explosions and fires that in midweek benumbed the citizens and despoiled the city. It faces the sad task of burying its dead, healing its wounded and rebuilding its demolished establishments,
"The rehabilitation job is enormous. It calls for the efforts of workers of all kinds and skills. Help from the outside is needed and welcome.
"In the first phase of the disaster any and every help was a boon. Now that system has replaced the chaos of the first day or two, only certain types of aid are of service.
"Texas Citians are deeply grateful for those volunteers who came into the ruined city at great personal risk. The service rendered by volunteers cannot be overestimated.
"Now that the city is better organized for the work at hand, there is no room for curious sightseers. Living and eating facilities are inadequate for those having business there. Each unneeded car and every unnecessary person add to the difficulty of carrying out the work of rehabilitation.
"The public is urged to stay away from Texas City. All persons are asked to keep out of the city unless they have pressing business there, or unless they have been specifically asked to contribute their efforts."
THE HOUSTON Press, April 19, 1947, said editorially:
"Tomorrow, in effect, will be a day of mourning for the victims of the Texas City disaster, It is probable many ministers in Houston and elsewhere in the Texas Gulf area will base their sermons on the holocaust that took such a great toll.
"The sequence of tragic events touched off by a ship explosion suggests the transitory quality of life. Hundreds of persons, with us not so long ago, went about the humdrum task of earning a livelihood, are mourned, with their passing affecting the lives, one way or another, of thousands of close friends and relatives.
"Nothing we can do, of course, can bring back the dead. We can, and are, making life as bearable as possible for the survivors. But we, the living, have manifold blessings that we sometimes take too much for granted. Would it not be well to select a church from the notices elsewhere in The Press and attend a service tomorrow, asking for guidance and mercy for the families of the Texas City victims and offering up a thanks that we have been spared - with the full realization that, in living on, we have an obligation always to the less fortunate among us?"
ACTING FIRE CHIEF, FRED DOWDY:
"Today we are cooling down debris and assisting with rescue work."
HUGH A. HUNTSMAN, Monsanto Policeman
"I attempted to identify the body of Lige Bullar, Sgt. of the Monsanto Police."
MRS. J. M. HOGAN, John Scaly Hospital:
"The Galveston barbers, doing their bit to help, came to give much-needed shaves and haircuts. The patients really appreciated this.
"Soon the entire second floor was cleaned up, the wards were all filled with beautiful flowers. Over the radio a church service was broadcast. I know the men in the ward were thanking God they were still alive."
"Ministers of every denomination and faith have filed through the wards of John Sealy today, and during those first long days and nights. Faith healers have come, priests were here, giving last rites to some, praying for others.
"Some pray within the sanctuary of their own hearts.
"Elizabeth Wheaton was in the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church this morning. Someone commented on how wonderful it was for her to sing today and she said, 'The Lord's been working for me all week; it's time I do a little work for Him.'
"Sunday at the hospital is just another day nearer normalcy. Joe Dillon, a machinist at Monsanto, is improving. He wants to go back with Monsanto when they rebuild."
THEROLE T. LEMEN:
"The Winchell broadcast tonight predicting another explosion at the Republic almost emptied the place. Nothing happened, so I came to work at midnight."
MONDAY, APRIL 21, 1947
THE GALVESTON News, editorially
"Hardly anything but the Texas City disaster has been on our minds since the tragedy occurred.
"When death thunders at your neighbor's house, as it did in Texas City, what happens in the outside world is relatively unimportant.
"It was a grim task the press photographers had to undertake in making pictures of the Texas City disaster. They did an admirable job. As usual, amateur photographers were on the spot, too, and some made some admirable shots-Press coverage of the catastrophe was admirable. Reporters worked long, hard hours to tell the sad story, and they told it well."
THE BEAUMONT Enterprise, April 21, 1947, editorially:
"Serious explosions and fires in the oil industry are rare. The tank farms of Texas look about as quiet as a cemetery and are less likely to catch fire than many public buildings where, alas, safety rules are not observed."
THEROLE T. LEMEN:
"The situation looks good today. Atlantic is out. Humble is under control and only a small fire at the docks and at Monsanto."
A. H. BARTH:
"Today 1 was allowed to leave the hospital and come home. It was not until then that I realized the extent of the disaster. (I was blinded when I left.) Now I see what a terrific explosion it was.
"When I visited our Monsanto plant site and the Terminal Docks, the wonder is that anyone came out alive."
CAPTAIN LEONARD FULLER:
"The horrible part of it all is the suddenness and completeness. Just before the explosion I had seen 3 fire trucks on the docks, and about 50 people, some carrying suitcases, going for a leave.
"When I looked back, everything was gone. I was thankful my two oil barges didn't blow up. There were 700 barrels of oil missing. We figure that the first explosion had set them off and the second put them out."
MRS. H. M. STRONG:
"West End, 4 blocks wide and 7 blocks long, is one of the earliest additions to Texas City. Four homes, including mine, were built in 1903. We are situated about one mile west of where the Grand Camp and High Flyer exploded, and suffered less property damage than any other section of town.
"Our dead and missing men, so many for so small an area, number 29."
THE TEXAS CITY Sun, April 21, 1947, editorially
"Bound together by a great and common tragedy for which there is no ready word of
solace, but which has bowed every head in humility and compassion, we of Texas City now rise again to carry on the hopes and dreams of those who have gone before us.
"This is our challenge, our privilege, our Opportunity."
THE HOUSTON Chronicle, April 21, 1947, editorially:
"The spirit of Texas City will not be dampened for long, despite the heavy loss of life and the terrific material damage that was incurred in the explosions of the last week.
"With superb determination, ordinary citizens and the officials of great industries alike are planning to rebuild the shattered city and resume the progress which during the past few years has been pushing Texas City higher and higher in the list of American industrial communities.
"The immediate decision of the Monsanto Chemical Company to rebuild its styrene plant is perhaps the most significant of the plans being made, for the company's loss was the heaviest of all and it was one of the largest chemical plants in the Texas coastal area. The replacement cost will run well ahead of the approximately $20,000,000 which the original plant cost, it is understood.
"Monsanto is to be commended for its relief and rehabilitation program, whereby it is paying dependents of each dead employee $1,000 in addition to the workmen's compensation insurance; its plans to assist the injured, keep unneeded employees on the payroll for a time, and assist employees in repairing or rebuilding their homes.
"The opinion that the disaster will not affect the industrial future of Texas City in the long run is expressed also by officials of the Pan American Refining Company, which has a huge refinery there. Pan American suffered only minor damage as compared with some others, but is a leader in relief and rehabilitation efforts.
"The company has presented the Texas City Relief Fund a check for $50,000, a gesture which expresses more pointedly than words its belief in the city's future and its intention to continue its participation in Texas City's development.
"Republic Oil, whose large refinery was heavily damaged, and other industries also will repair and rebuild. Some can be back in full production within several weeks or at the most within a few months.
"One of the greatest problems is housing. Hundreds of residences, mostly small and inexpensive, were destroyed, while others were damaged heavily. All were damaged to some extent. Residential damage totals millions of dollars.
"Railroad and harbor facilities were destroyed with losses of additional millions. These will be replaced, perhaps with expanded and improved facilities for both rail and water transportation.
"In the meantime, the need for funds for relief and for assisting destitute residents to rebuild their homes continues and will continue for some time. The more than $200,000 already received by the welfare committee is being augmented daily. Every contribution will help.
"Texas City was no stranger to disaster. A storm once almost crushed the then small community and set its growth back for years. But it rebuilt and went on to become an industrial city of nation-wide significance. It will rebuild faster after this disaster and go on into a greater future."
TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 1947
THEROLE T. LEMEN:
"When it became light enough to see, I noticed that peculiar orange smoke coming from the docks and drifting across Texas City. The wind had gone back to the south. We at Pan Am were trying to start up and had No. 1 C.U. hot and about ready to come on the line.
"At 10:00 we held up the No. 1 C.U., and sent everyone home who wanted to go. By that time, it was generally known that there were about 140 tons of ammonium nitrate in the dock area, afire."
FRED DOWDY, Acting Fire Chief:
"Mayor Trahan and I had been down to the docks to look over the situation. When we came back, we got in touch with the Coast Guard. A Coast Guard fire boat came over and went to work on it.
"We had trucks and men ready to go down, but I waited until I knew what I was sending people down for, before I gave the order. A Bureau of Mines Inspector went down and gave the opinion that the land fire fighters could safely go down.
"After the Coast Guard fireboat crew had been working on it a while, the Texas City firemen went down with 2 pumps with 2 lines and assisted the Coast Guard in washing it overboard. It took 18 hours, all together."
VIC LANDIG, mortician in charge of the Texas City dead:
"At 10:00 A.M. I was notified that the cold storage vault at Camp Wallace was ready to receive the dead. The first bodies were placed in the vault at about noon April 22, and by 5:00 P.M. about 82 bodies were in storage.
"At about 3:00 P.M. Mr. Brooker of Monsanto Chemical Company arrived at Camp Wallace, and arrangements were made for the Monsanto operators to take over the refrigeration system which had been put in operation by Carbide men supervised by Tobe Stanley, H. E. Allspach and B. R. Tucker, Machinist Supervisors."
"A second fire started this morning in the remaining nitrate. Several of the operators got hysterical and left. Mr. John Hill from the Mayor's office came over and reassured us."
"I am still anxiously awaiting word that they have identified my husband's body.
"Even though Vic is gone, and in such a violent way, as are hundreds of others, I know that it is God's will. I also know that Vic would have wanted it that way. He was taken that morning, as our motto states, 'In the Service of Others.'"
E. E. EDMONSON, in the Neches Sphere:
"I wish that it were possible for every refinery employee to have witnessed the destruction and death, not only of employees, but men and women and children whose bodies were mangled and charred beyond recognition, and in every conceivable condition as a result of so great an explosion accompanied by such intense heat that was brought about because someone disregarded safety regulations.
"There was a simple little sign on the boat that they chose to ignore.
It read, 'NO SMOKING.' "
ACTING FIRE CHIEF FRED DOWDY:
"No more danger from fire now. Everything is gone."
B. F. PIETSCH, employee of E. S. Levy, Galveston:
(NOTE: Levy's started a Texas City Relief Fund at 10:30 A.M., April 16, with a check for $l,000, collected more funds and turned them over to the general fund.)
"Mr. Levy asked me to call on our customers and see how they fared.
"It was a pleasure to visit people who had a hole in their roof, all windows out, members of the family injured, and yet they said,
"Thank God, we are lucky. There are lots who suffered more.'
"The people of Texas City are the bravest people I have ever met. I have not heard one complain.
"Our nation should watch the people of Texas City and learn what makes a city, a state, a nation a better city, state, nation. These people will build a greater Texas City."
THE TEXAS CITY Sun, April 22, editorially:
"Although gratitude wells deep in the hearts of every Texas Citian for the 'outside' aid rushed into our city in a time of need, still deeper runs the spirit of kinship which has sprung from the knowledge of a burden shared, of the help which came from the next-door neighbor who turned immediately to the task with but one thought:
These are our people.
"Only minutes after the disaster, Texas City doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, trained and volunteer workers were ministering to their own. Drug stores, grocery stores, department stores, hardware stores and many others with usable stocks poured merchandise from battered shelves to those who needed it, accepting no payment.
"First-aid stations and coffee and sandwich stations sprang up. Business establishments were converted for emergency use. Rescue squads formed, private cars, trucks, carried the injured and dead. Industries organized to care for workers, municipal and Chamber of Commerce heads went into action, housewives opened homes, children comforted one another.
"As the days wore on, neighbors who Tuesday (April 16) were strangers, lent a hand, customers took 30-minute turns behind counters to relieve short-handed labor conditions.
"Personal and business gains were forgotten as each gave according to the need he found, each worked according to the job at hand. Only one thought stood and stands clear: These are our people."
TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 1947, the people of Texas City were asked to return to their homes. Those who are physically able will do so. There are many in hospitals who will remain away for many more days, weeks, even months. Many will have to learn to use one hand where once were two, one foot, one leg, one eye.
And you, who stretched out such kindly hands to aid, and walked with us in our dark hours close to that flaming death, in hospital or morgue, and stood beside us at our open graves, still stand beside us, as with courage firm, we face tomorrow's sun, and shadows fall behind. The path is hard ahead. We still need friends and prayer.
- ELIZABETH LEE WHEATON
Lack of space prevented the use of interesting material supplied by the following:
Frances Irene Staron Ammons, Elestine Armstrong, Mrs. H. J. Baumgartner, Mrs. Ethel
Baker, Mrs. T. A. Barber, Roger Bolino, J. T. Cain, Mrs. John Campbell, Helen Chalmers,
Milton E. Clark, Elmer V. Coolidge, H. M. Cooper, Sylvia F. Curtis, Willie D. Davis, Mrs.
S. T. Dempsey, Ann Durst, Columbus Fuller, Mrs. Leonard Edward Fuller, C. F. Fuller, G. B.
Garza, Josephine Godinich, Gertrude Girardeau, Mrs. F. J. Hargrave, Oscar Hokanson, Neils
Hokanson, Mrs. L. H. Hunter, Lillian Johnson, Clement Jennis, Jessie Jones, James Jones, Kathleen Kaiser, Mrs. V. R. Kelly, 0. Q. Lomax, Dr. and Mrs. L. E. Lake, Louis Levin, Mary
Martin, Alline Mason, Bobby Martin, Florence Moore, Jane and James Miles, William Sidney
Miles, Mrs. E. W. Morehead, Cleo Murphy, Mrs. E. H. Mitchell, Lilo Nevels, William Orr, August Osterhoim, Chester Premo, Fred Pool, Carlyle Plummer, Winifred Pugh, Simon Randle, Elizabeth Rhyne, Duncan B. Ross, Mary Redfern, Rosalie Saba, Estelle Scarbrough, Linda Lou
Scarbrough, Leta Karen Cunningham, Mrs. J. M. Stevens, Jennie Scott, J~ S. Sullivan, Lillie
Mae Smith, Willie Smith, Lizzie Tolson, L. C. Talmage, Margaret Veach, Hedwig Wagner, C.
Janet Wood, R. J. Watts, Carl J. Whitson, Vera Watkins, and Henry 0. Wray, Jr.
What the People Said and Did
For the People, by the People
By the Community, State and Nation Part One
By the Community, State and Nation Part Two
By the Community, State and Nation Part Three
Lest We Forget
United We Stand
In God We Trust
Annals of Texas City