Texas City Disaster

The Texas City disaster occurred on April 16, 1947 at approximately 9:15am when a fire on board the docked French registered vessel SS Grandcamp caused the cargo of 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate to detonate. The initial blast devastated the port and ignited the refineries and oil tanks that were on the waterfront.

In addition, the first explosion ignited a nearby cargo ship, High Flyer, which was docked 600 feet away. The cargo of this ship was also ammonium nitrate as well as sulfur. Despite efforts to free the High Flyer from its anchor and other obstacles now in the water, the High Flyer exploded about 15 hours after the Grandcamp. The second explosion demolished another ship, SS William B. Keene, as well as increasing the damage to the port and the other vessels.

Slip # 2 with ship destroyed in second explosion, April 19, 1947, Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 15, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll4/item/8.

Slip # 2 with ship destroyed in second explosion, April 19, 1947, Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 15, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll4/item/8.

The amount of destruction from the blast was enormous. More than 5,000 people were injured with 1,764 being admitted to area hospitals. At least 581 people were killed, including all but one of the Texas City Fire Department. 63 of the dead were never identified. There is a belief that the death estimates are low in that many were turned to ash with the explosion and those with an undocumented presence in Texas City, such as visiting seamen, travelers, and undocumented laborers with their families, may have perished also.

Fuel tank near slip # 1, April 18, 1947, Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 15, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll4/item/2.

Fuel tank near slip # 1, April 18, 1947, Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 15, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll4/item/2.

Five story building beside slip # 1, April 18, 1947, Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 15, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll4/item/3.

Five story building beside slip # 1, April 18, 1947, Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 15, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll4/item/3.

Texas City disaster. Parking lot .25 mile away from the explosion.  Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.

Parking lot one quarter mile from explosion, April 18, 1947, Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 21, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll4/item/20.

The blast levelled nearly 1,000 buildings. More than 500 homes were destroyed and hundreds more were damaged. 2,000 people were left homeless.   Over 1,100 cars were damaged and freight cars were demolished. The anchor of the Grandcamp was found 1.62 miles inland in a 10 ft. crater. Another of the Grandcamp’s anchor was found ½ mile away at the entrance of the Texas City Dike. A propeller from the High Flyer was found almost a mile inland.

The cause of the initial fire on the Grandcamp was never determined.

I have heard of the Texas City Disaster all my life. Both my parents are from the Houston area and my father, Dr. Ernest Nalle, Jr., was an intern at Jefferson Davis Hospital at the time of the explosion. He was one of the first responders sent to the area to help with the wounded. This is something I have known all my life and never really gave much thought to it, until I found this picture of him and realized how young he was to be working such a horrific disaster and what an impact it must have made.

Nalle, Ernest, Jr. - Senior Med School

Ancestry.com. U.S. School Yearbooks [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA, accessed 15 April 2014: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Various school yearbooks from across the United States.

This was the first disaster he worked.  The other one that I know of was the Lubbock Tornado, but that is another story for another time.

God Bless all our first responders.

 

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