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You are here -> HOME - RETROVILLE - 1947 - In the News - Texas City Disaster
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Welcome to Retroville! It's 1947!
On April 16, 1947, what would become known as the "Texas City Disaster" began with a fire on a ship anchored in the harbor. The ship, The Grand Camp, was laden with ammonium nitrate fertilizer bound for war-town Europe. As firefighters from the town rushed to the scene to extinguish the flames, a crowd began to gather on the docks. Mostly children, the activity in the harbor attracted on-lookers of all ages.
Texas City - Monsanto Chemical Plant goes up in flames
As the crowd watched the bright orange flames licking the sky through the haze of smoke, nobody could have anticipated the events that were about to unfold and thrust a small town in Texas into the international spotlight.

At approximately 9:00 a.m., The Grand Camp, still anchored in the harbor, exploded. A column of smoke rose more than twenty thousand feet, followed by a second explosion a few seconds later. The violent shockwaves could be felt by everyone on the docks. Within moments of the second explosion, the Monsanto Chemical Plant, located at the harbor edge, burst into flames when its lines and containers were shattered by the aftershocks of The Grand Camp's explosions.

Just as everyone tried to regain their bearings, a miniature tidal wave, caused by the explosions, rushed over the docks and 150 feet inland sweeping away everything--and everyone--in its path.

As rescue workers and townspeople tried to locate the dead and injured in the harbor area, firefighters and harbor masters continued to deal with a second ship fire aboard the High Flyer.  The High Flyer, set alight by The Grand Camp explosions, was also laden with ammonium nitrate and sulfur. Tugboats had no luck trying to move her out of the harbor.

At 1:00 a.m. on April 17, the firefighters realized the gravity of the situation aboard the High Flyer.  They ordered everyone out of the harbor area. At 1:10 a.m., the High Flyer exploded violently taking the Wilson B. Keene, another closely anchored ship, with her. In an instant, a concrete warehouse and grain elevator on the docks were leveled.

The resulting explosions and fires took out the entire Texas City Fire Department, plant workers, dockworkers, school children, and bystanders. In Baytown, several miles away, windows rattled. In Galveston, further up the bay coast, a fine mist of black oil rained down.

By the time neighboring fire departments got the fires under control, and all of the victims transported to hospitals or morgues, the death count stood at almost 600 with more than 2,000 injured. Property loss was estimated at more than $67 million.

The death toll may have actually been higher, but many bodies were never recovered or were unable to be identified. Not a single family in Texas City escaped the disaster unscathed. Every family lost a loved one or had someone in their home seriously injured, not to mention the loss of many homes themselves.

It took almost a week to extinguish the last of the fires. It would be almost a month before the last body was pulled from beneath the tons of rubble.

Memorial Cemetery on Loop 197 North stands mute witness to the disaster housing 63 numbered graves for the unidentified remains that went unclaimed. The funeral for the 63 unknowns took place on June 22, 1947, in donated caskets with simple, non-denominational services. Members of local veterans' groups, labor unions, and firemen acted as pallbearers.

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