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The Texas City Disaster.

A Staff Report.
exposure to blast
Four hundred and sixty. eight persons because of the direct
are known to have lost their lives , over a damage of high valued industrial plants
hundred are still missing (July 1 , 1947), and facilities. Much of this property was
particularly vulnerable to blast damage and
and, 3000 were injured as the result of
fireS and ammonium nitrate explosions self- propagated resultant fires because of
materials em-
aboard two ships docked at Texas City, the flammable nature of
Texas , April 16- , 1947. Property dam- played in the processing activities or
age and contingent losses are estimated at
stored preparatory to shipment or use.
$67, 000 000. II. Chronological Sequence.
The account ofthe disaster in this staff
Prior to 8:00 A. M. April 16, the 7000-
report is presented as follows: Grandcamp had
ton Liberty vessel 5. 5.
I. IntroduCtion. been loaded with approximately 2300
II. Chronological ' Sequence. tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. It
III. Conclusions. was berthed in the North Slip, adjacent
IV. Losses, to " Pier 0 " of the Texas City Terminal

V. Details. Railroad Company s docking facilities.

A. Texas City Terminal Railway Co. The vessel was owned by the Republic of
B. MonsantO Chemical Co. France and operated by Compagnie Gene-
C. Oil Tank Farms and Refineries. rale Atlantique , commonly known as the
D. City of Texas City. French Line. It had arrived at Texas City
E. Miscellaneous Properties. on the morning of April 11. Loading
F. The Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizec. operations had commenced that afternoon.
VI. References. The ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been
shipped to Texas City via rail on govern-
I. Introduction.
ment bills of lading from three Midwest
The terrible disaster resulted from the ordnance plants. The fertilizer was ship-
explosive decomposition of ammonium
ped , handled and was being stowed in the
nitrate fertilizer under fire conditions. Grandcamp in 100- pound " 6- ply, mois-
The tremendous violence of the blasts tureproof paper bags marked: " Fertilizer
resulted from the formation of la rge vol- Ammonium Nitrate , Nitrogen 32. 5%:'
umes of decomposition gases within the The material had been stored in the ware-
confined areas of the holds of the ships
house on " Pier 0" and stevedores were
involved. loading the vessel from this source.
The large loss of life occurred because Approximately 1400 tons had been
of the immediate proximity of persons en- stowed in No. 2 hold and 880 tons in
gaged in the industrial activity of the port lower No, 4 hold when loading operations
and its exposed properties. This concen-
ceased at 5:00 P. M. April 15. Other cargo
tration of population was augmented by in separate holds included cotton , binder
firemen and a considerable number of twine , peanuts , boxed machinery, oil well
curious persons who had been attracted to equipment and 16 boxes of small arms
the scene by the pre- explosion fire. ammunition.
The huge property destruction occurred Loading operations were resumed about
8:00 A. M. on the 16th in lower hold No.
'See SeC!ion VI for sources of infocm"ion.

The Quarterly
National Fire Protection Association
July 1947



A".,..""",. was b."h.dl odioc.,I. Th. H;gh

V."icol pholog,oph of T.,m;,ol,. Ih. .,plo.;o,. Mo"o,lo plo,l oll.ft , wIth South SlIp (wh.,. Grandeanlp
10'g..1 fi,..,.,;.tiv. wo,ohouso. Nol. ,.Iolio, 10 olllo,k fo,m' 01 low., ,;ghl.
Flyer we. " tho Moi, (c.,I.r) ,lIp odjo,.,t to tho

4, No fire or smoke was visible at this the hold, A ship s fire hose was lowered
time according to survivors, One crew of into the hatch , but the first mate (known
four workmen commenced to stow bags as second captain on French ships) or-
of the fertilizer already in the hold on the dered that no water be used as it would
port side of the vessel. A second crew of damage the cargo, (Water was available
four sat down on the starboard side to and the ship s fire pump operating at full
await further supplies from topside, It is working pressure, ) The hatch was then
believed one or more of this idle crew covered , a tarpaulin put in place and wet
smoked a cigarette during the interval. down , vent cowls were sealed , and steam
There was known to be smoking on the introduced into No. 4 hold through the
main deck. installed steam smothering system,
The First Fire. It was 8:30 by this time and the smoke
About 8:15, smoke ' was observed in continued to increase despite efforts to
lower No, 4 hold on the starboard side smother the fire. A telephone alarm of
issuing from an open space about 8 inches fire was received about 8:30 by the Texas
wide between the hull and cargo battens, City Fire Department.' Two fire trucks re-
Attempts were made to extinguish the sponded immediately, followed by the two
fire with drinking water and hand fire remaining pieces of apparatus. A total of
extinguishers , but flames were observed to 27 volunteer firemen responded out of
increase along the starboard side, The the total 50 members of the department.
ship s whistle was sounded to give the Crew members of the Grandcamp left
alarm and all persons were ordered out of their ship and assembled on the adjoining

T.... City fi,.m., fighli'g Ih. fi,. . bo.,d Ih. Grandcamp p,io, to tho .,plosioo, Nol.
a," ho,. Ii,. " ,.n",. , olh." b.i'g p'.p.,.d, All 27 fi,.m., who '.'po,d.d w.,. kill.d by
Ih. bl..t,

The Grandcamp completely disintegrat-

pier to assist firemen who stretched hose
lines from dock- side hydrants, Photo-
ed and fragments were thrown in all
graphs taken between 8: 30 and 8: 50 show directions.
one hose stream in use from the dock with Missiles , varying in size from large sec-
another liDe being assembled , but it has tions of ship s plate weighing tons to com-
not been possible to determine precisely pact fragments weighing less than a
what fire fighting was accomplished be- pound , were thrown through the air for
fore the explosion, thousands of feet , leveled some structures
Pressures were being built up within damaged others , pierced all tank roofs

the ship s hold as the hatch covers blew

crushed automobiles , severed railroad
off and an orange- brown smoke (charac- tracks and buried themselves in the

teristic of oxides of nitrogen) was ob- ground, Heated missiles ignited flamma-
served, The hull in the way of the fire ble vapors at their source while others split
was sufficiently heated to , vaporize water, tanks and released vapors which were sub-
running off the deck before it reached the sequently ignited from friction sparks or
surface of the slip. . open flames in the vicinity,
The First Explosion.
Explanation of Shock Waves.
The explosion occurred at 9:12 AM,
Those on the pier fighting the fire and Concussion damages were most severe,
over 400 others in the vicinity were killed They took three distinct forms, First, the
the great majority instantaneously, Others itial shock waves leveled such build-
felled by the blast, were clemated by en- ings as Warehouse 0 , the Monsanto
suing fires. warehouse building directly across the slip,

Damage to Ihe five-,to,y polysly'." bulldl'g of Ihe Mo",.,lo Comp.,y while fi,.s w...
buildl'g rec.lved di..ct .'plosio, blest f,om Ihe
.1111 bumi'g I, Ihe "e., Th,.
a"o.. . disl.," of o,ly 350 ft,

r" A.S"" Fi" D,p"- Cop" Co.""

Vi.w of Mo",o,lo p,op."", ,howi,g well follu,., I, w.,.hou,. 01 ,ighl .,d d.mog.
offi,. bulldi'g .11.ft,
and caused severe direct concussiol) dam- was obviously horizontal. Many of these
ages to other structures within range, Two buildings were clearly shielded from the
private airplanes were knocked out of the direct concussion forces,
sky, and their occupants killed. Despite this deflection , sufficient force
It seems substantiated that the only ma- was applied on the water in the North
jor explosion was the nitrate cargo at this Slip (depth 30 ft.) to drive it shoreward,
hour , although there were minor tank ex- The volume of water displaced was ade-
plosions immediately thereafter, Residents quate to lift a steel barge (11 ft. draft
of the area who speak of other major 150 ft. long, 28 ft. wide) and deposit it
blasts shortly after the initial explosion are 100 ft. inshore,
believed to have confused the time differ- Beyond this , there was evidence to sup-
ential between the shock and sound waves port the thesis that a third type of blast
or to have been mystified by the pattern damage occurred, This was occasioned by
of the shock waves themselves, the negative pressure front or vacuum
Some of the blast effect was deflected created by the displaced air at the core,
by the impact with substantial nearby Properties affected were those on the outer
structures , and since the explosion oc- rim of the explosion- rocked area, The
curred in lower No, 4 hold of the Grand- vacuum effect was manifested by upward
camp, the horizontal forces , as initially thrusts on roofs of buildings , automobile
applied against the water in the slip, were engine hoods , and outward fragmentation
deflected at a high angle. These deflected of glass windows,
shock waves formed a second high pres- Another result of the first blast was
sure effect, A very definite pattern , in that the S. S. High Flyer (a C-2 cargo ves-
terms of distance from the scene of the sel of American registry) was blown across
explosion , is evidenced by damages caused the main slip where it , was berthed at
by the deflected waves, Buildings affected Pier A to lie against the Liberty ship, S, S.
by such concussion waves show the effect Wilson B. Keene, This was significant
of downward forces of high magnitude as when the High Flyer caught fire later on
contrasted to buildings where concussion in the day,


~ E



Fires Following the First Blast. Rescue Activities.

The files occasioned by this initial blast Rescue efforts were the first order of
business. Fire fighting in the Monsanto
are best portrayed photographically, The
Monsanto plant was literally engulfed in and Terminal area was impossible. Even
could not ap-
flames, In the main , these fires were
the Coast Guard cutter Iris

caused by the ignition of combustible hy-

proach the docks for effective fire suppres-
sion following its 10:40 A, M, arrival flOm
drocarbons , especially in the polystyrene
building, the ethylene purification units
Galveston, It picked up survivors in the
the process equipment and control facili- water and returned to its station, The 27
ties of the alkylation unit , the distillation Texas City firemen on duty at the

towers and the fourteen main storage tanks camp were killed outright. Their total of
of benzol , fuel oil , and other low vapor
four pieces of fire apparatus was wrecked,
pressure hydrocarbolls, Ground fires Other volunteer members of the depart-
spread fire damage to piping and were fed ment responded to the emergency follow-
ing the explosion , but the water supply
by flammable liquids which escaped flOm
broken or melted lines, The fact that the systems in both the Terminal and Mon-
highest pressure on equipment in the plant santo areas were inoperative due to explo-
was around 15 pounds was a factor which sion damage, Drafting water flOm the
must be credited , at least partially, with slips or bay was barred by fires and wreck-
age, Houston fire equipment and man-
the fact that there were no separate explo-
sions in the Monsanto plant area, power drove 50 miles to the ' scene fol-
The Terminal Warehouses 0 and A lowing commercial radio broadcasts of the
and the frame compress between these disaster, Army fire- fighting crews flOm
buildings , were immediately involved, Fort Crocker were dispatched by the Com-
Sulphur stored in Warehouse A was ignit- manding Officer , who observed the smoke
, giving off ' noxious fumes, What other and felt the explosion. There was no di-
Terminal buildings were immediately in- rect call for assistance to these or other
volved in fire cannot be definitely estab- neighboring fire departments on the 16th
lished because of the extent of concussion
although other communities also respond-
damage, the subsequent explosion of the ed with pumpers and manpower on their
High Flyer which destroyed evidence , and own initiative, All fire- fighting personnel
, concen.
including local plant brigades
the heavy smoke which drifted with the
20 mph wind over the entire area. There trated on rescue work except at the Stone
were fires , however, on the water edge of and Richardson- Republic tank farms
piers as far as the south slip, presumably which were segregated from the main ex-
from oil pipelines that had parted by con- plosion- damaged area, Fire equipment, in
cussion or had been pierced by missiles, It the main , was parked in the school yard

is also positively established that six tanks in the town during the first day,
High Flyer
in the Stone Oil Co, farm and one in the The uninjured crews on the
found their position
Richardson- Republic farm ignited, All and Wilsan B, Keene

other oil tank farm fires were caused by untenable due to the smoke and sul-
explosion. phur fumes , and abandoned their ships at
the High Flyer
10:30 A, M, High Fly., could not be
During the period between 9:12 and The

1: 10 A, M. the following morning, the moved under its own power as its main
scene was one of unparalleled tragedy, turbine casing had been removed for in-
mitigated only by many exhibitions of per- spection, An anchor was lowered to hold
Keene was also
sonal sacrifice , individual helOism , and the vessel in place, The

distraught initiative, dead" because of blast damages, Two


tugs which were despatched from Galves- community disaster plan, However , the
ton at 8:50 arrived at the Texas City turn- existence of a Disaster Plan would have
ing basin at 9:50 A, M" but could not enter speeded the organization of the several
the harbor due to dense smoke , fumes agencies involved,
and debris, The tugs picked up survivors
and returned to Galveston, The Iris re- Further Trouble Brewing.

turned to Texas City at 3:00 P, M" but While rescue work was proceeding, fur-
again could not enter any of the three slips ther trouble was brewing for the already
for fire fighting and left at 7:40 P, heavily damaged port, The Grandcamp
Fourth Army, Red Cross , and Salvation blast carried away the hatches of the High
Army rescue and medical workers rushed Flyer jumbled the cargo , sprang the
to the area, The small Galveston Red steam lines , distorted and deflected the
Cross Chapter was sending help to the superstructure and decks , besides injuring
scene within thirty minutes, The readily the captain and crew members, There was
available services of the Fourth Army from no fire observed on this ship, however
headquarters at Fort Sam Houston , Fort until approximately 6:00 P. M, of the 16th,
Crockett , Ellington Field , San Jacinto Ord- It is not difficult to imagine that flames
nance Depot , and the Galveston District from the burning piers and warehouses
Engineer were invaluable until the Red spread to the High Flyer reacbing the
Cross could muster sufficient personnel to cargo through the open hatchways, Sul-
handle the emergency, (The tornado in phur in holds No, 2 and No, 4 (total
Texas and Oklahoma on April 9th had 2000 tons) was observed burning about
drained normally available Red Cross
workers in the Southwest.) An indication
of the efficiency of rescue work may be
gleaned from the statistics of the Univer-
sity of Texas Medical Branch, Within the
first five hours this one hospital in Gal-
veston handled 360 casualties, A de-
activated hospital at Fort Crockett was
placed in service by 6:00 P, M, and was
handling patients (total admissions , 121
persons), The Fourth Army sent 9000 lbs,
of blood plasma from Austin , medical
personnel (69 officers , 50 nurses and 232 L.s A,s"" f;" D.p"- C'P',,
enlisted men), plus surgical equipment The ,em.;", of Ihe Keenei, Ih. M,i, Slip,
food , gas masks , beavy road and construc- Th. High Flyer .'plod.d ., ill,y 'g,i",1 tho
Keene, h,vi,g bee, blow, "'0" the slip f,om
tion equipment, and similar emergency Pie, " A" by the Grandcamp biasI,
relief supplies, Army aircraft brought
needed medicines from St. Louis supply six oclock, It was known that the ship
centers, Army specialists in gas gangrene had also been loaded with 860 tons of
were flown to the scene, General Wain- ammonium nitrate in hold No, 3, A call
wright, commanding the Fourth Army, was made to Galveston at 8:00 P, M, for
had joined Governor Jester of Texas at four tugs with oxy- acetylene cutting equip-
the scene by 4: 20 P. M, to speed all possi- ment and gas masks because authorities
ble relief to the area, There was no lack wele apprehensive concerning the explo-
of succor for the victims of the disaster on sion potential in this second situation, The
the part of relief organizations and the tugs arrived at Texas City between 11:00
Army despite the lack of an integrated and 11 :20 P, M, Personnel boarded the

~"A",""Fi"D,p"- Cop" Co.lin,

6.,",,1 v;.w of w, 0' P;., A. showi'g ,.maI", of Ih. fi,..,.sistlv. wa,.hou,., I,
,.,1., - w,eckag. Is fo,m., Pi., " " .,d '01. that oul., .,d " u,d., wol." S..te."
mo,ks .dg. of Mo",o,lo p,op.rty, Th. Grandcamp wa, do,k.d " ,lip ,.d 10 Pl., "
High Flyer and made several attempts to red hot " resembling a fireworks display,
cut the anchor chain (finally succeeding) Large sections observed on the ground
and to move the vessel. The latter effort similarly showed the effects of tremen-
could not be accomplished because tow dous heat and were warped and twisted
lines failed , the two vessels were jammed into grotesque shapes, It was the missiles
and fouled , and the smoke, fire , and sul- from the High Flyer which caused the
phur fumes had become so heavy that the severe damage and fires in the oil tank
area had to be evacuated, White smoke farms in the Humble and Richardson areas
was observed about this time issuing from south of the main Terminal facilities,
the No, 3 hatch, Efforts were abandoned Concussion forces were again severe,
to tow the vessel from the slip at 12:55 Reinforced concrete Warehouses A and B
M, on the morning of the 17th, were reduced to rubble, except a small por-
The Second Explosion.
tion of Warehouse B on the shore end
The High Flyer exploded at 1:10 A,
which remained standing. Warehouses C
As far as can be accurately determined , and E (unprotected steel) were col-
only one additional life was lost due to this lapsed further , original damage having
second explosion, been from fires started by the Grandcamp
The High Flyer like the Grandcamp,
explosion and from exposure to the oil
completely disintegrated, That portion of
fires burning along the water front, A
the Wilson B, Keene abaft No, 2 hatch
structural steel grain conveyor which con-
was also destroyed, The wrecked and re- nected the reinforced concrete grain ele-
maining forward portion of the Keene
vator with Warehouse B (over the roof)
which had a cargo consisting only of 445 was collapsed, Other buildings in the
tons of flour . may be seen in the photo- Terminal area , damaged by the first explo-
graphs, sion . were demolished by the second,
Missiles were again hurled through the Fi,es After Second Explosion.
air for thousands of feet. Testimony Fires gained impetus in the Terminal
eye- witnesses verifies that exceedingly high area following the High Flyer explosion
temperatures had been reached , as some of but the most sensational new fires occurred
the pieces of metal observed in the air were in the oil tank farm areas, In the Humble

Pipe Line Co, property four tanks were area prevented any, attempt at fire control
ignited immediately and four additional until the morning of the 20th , when a
tanks fired from these exposure fires; in tank of bunker oil which burned slowly
the Stone farm two more tanks were was extinguished with foam, Water was
ignited; in the Republic Refinery one tank drafted from the South Slip for this pur-
was ignited; while in the Carbide and pose and foam powder brought from other
Carbon Terminal property an aluminum refineries was used , as Humble s foam sup-
tank containing isopropyl acetate and one plies had been ruined by heat.
steel tank burned.
All day during the 17th , rescue opera- Additional Rescue Work.
tions proceeded without measurable efforts Cleaning up the debris- strewn area had
at fire control. The ravished area was to precede much of the rescue operations,
beyond salvage. Fires still b~rning in the Mayor Trahan of Texas City on the morn.
Monsanto and Terminal Buildings slowed ing of April 17 appointed a special com-
rescue workers and spreae gradually mittee representing each of the industries
among the rubble of twisted steel and affected to supervise relief and rescue oper-
flammable contents, The tanks were flam- ations under the direction of the chief en-
ing torches and the crude oil fires burned gineer for the Pan American Refining
with a black smoke which could be ob- Corporation. Governor Beauford Jester
served for miles around, A spectacular declared a " state of emergency " and desig-
boil over " occurred on the 19th , which nated the State Department of Public
is shown in the illustrations, Lack of Safety to coordinate all police and rescue
water supplies in the Humble Company activities, There was some confusion of

L"A.,.'"'i,.D.", C",, C,.".,

W,.,k,g, I, for.g,ou,d wa, 'ph..o;d , ,Imilo, 10 u,damag,d 0"' 01 ,ighl, Smok, I, bo,
g,ou,d f,om fi" 0' Humble Fo'm.

authority. but the emergency situation was

so urgent that individual participants Dor-
mally did the necessary without undue con-
cern as to authorization, Army and civil-
ian bulldozers , cranes , dump trucks and
similar heavy duty equipment worked effi-
ciently and speedily to remove wreckage
so that buried bodies might be retrieved
and the single access road cleared for use,
Assistant Chief Dowdy was ' placed in
charge of the remaining local volunteer
firemen , who speedily r""eived replace-
ment apparatus from the War Assets Ad.
ministration, Eff""tive fire fighting in the
Terminal area was not started , however
until the afternoon of the l8th , when
Houston and Pasadena sent apparatus and
manpower to the scene, Water was draft-
ed from the slips , as the underground sys.
tern still could not be used, The Coast
Guard cutter Iris was used to pour water L" A."", O'p,, -4;op" Coo!;"

from the bay on the smoldering piers dur- 0,. of tho Humbl. OIl t.,ks bu,";'g two
d.y' .fl., tho .'plosio, o f tho High Flyer,
ing the 18th. Isolated fires were still burn- Ig,lllo, ott,lbul.d 10 hol mlssIl."
ing in the Monsanto property during the can t happen
18th also , a burning benzol tank provid- those who repeatedly say: " It
ing the greatest volume of smoke. No fire (2) Prompr deteCtion and reporting of !ires
fighting was attempted in this area and the remain tbe chief keys to control. (Delay in
flames only subsided as their fuel was transmitting the ala,m of fire on the
consumed, camp, "'temptS to fight the fire wi,hout calling
By the morning of the 19th , clean- the fire department , and poor judgment in p,o-
work had progressed admirably and fire hibiting ,he use of hose streams ser the srage for
fighting was systematic in the Terminal ,he tragedy,

area, Most of the bodies that were to be (3) Chemical p,oducrs must be continually
located had been removed to mortuaries, analyzed to derermine their fire and explosion
The buildings in' the city had been in- hazards, Fire departments must search out
chemical hazards within their proteCIion zones.
spected and those unsafe were placarded.
(The explosive violence of ammonium nitrate
explosions was a matter of record , bur even the
III. Conclusions.
expertS erted somewhat in evaluating its haz-
In a disaster of this nature and magni. a,ds unde, fire condirions,
tude , evaluation of the principal contrib- (4) Special proteCtion faciliries required by
uting factors presents difficulties , but the the inberent natu,e of certain indusrrial enter-
following recommendations are offered for prises must be provided to safeguard life and
those who , in studying Texas City, desire property which might be exposed. (The lack of
to prevent similar disasters in their own readily available marine tOwing equipment , the
communities: lack of a pOrt wa,den to govern handling of
(1) Tbe " impossible " happened again at haza,dous materials were se,ious deficiencies at
Texas City. La'ge fi,es and explosions continu- Texas City,
ally emphasize the need fo, preparedness and (5) More stri,t induStrial zoning is ob-
,h,ow the stigma of folly into the faces of viously required , especially wbere an explosion

L.. An,.,.. Fi" D.p"- C.p" Conlin.

G.,."I vI.w of damage " Mo"",lo plo,l, 0,. of Ih. 190 ft, di,lillolio, .t ,ighl
fo'.g,ou,d , olkylolio, low." et '.0" p,op". lo,k, ;, I.ft c.,I." o,d w,.,kog. of low- p'.s-
su,. hyd,ocebo, t.,k, i, c.,I., fo'.g,ou,

potential exists. (Tbe 5000 employees of tbe remains of utmnst importance. (At Texas City
concenttated induStrial a,ea suItounding tbe ,he installations were reasonably well planned
pOIt facilities at Texas City wete innocent vic- and only about 22 per cent of the petroleum
tims in the disaster. stored within a 1Yz- mile radius was lost by
(6) Dependence on established fire p,otec- fire,
tion facilities in explosion hazardous areas is (10) Port operational procedu", and dock.
dangerous. (With the Tetminal and Monsanto ing facilities tequire renewed fire safety aoaly-
fire proteCtion systems koocked out by the first sis, BetIer supervision , increased proteCtion
blast , effective fire fighting was delayed (even facilities , and improved fire protection on sbip-
af,er rescue operations had been essentially com- board ate needed, (Texas City s disaster fol,
pleted) because there was no organized plan to lowed two ship fires and ,he Los Angeles explo-
draft water from the bay and to utilize pumper sion of June 22 , 1947 , is an i,dication thar rhe
equipment available, end is not yet,
(7) Open a,eas between stIUCtur" wiJI (11) Most imponant, preplanning against
mitigate explosion damage and a,e ,he only log- disaster co,fusion incorporating regional fire
ical me,hod other than subterranean constIUc- defense organization is obHgatory. (The Jack of
,ion, (The lessons a' Texas City were simila, such planning was a severe handicap at Texas
to those of World W", II in ,his 'espeer, Rein- City, overcome only by individual initiative and
forced concrete buildings within 200 feet of the personal heroism of ,hose on the scene,
explosions failed , while those 700 feet away
were only damaged and did not collapse, Con. IV. Losses.
cussion forces were less severe on rounded sur-
On June 22 , 1947 , 67 days following
faces and unencumbered StructUral steel,
(8) Opera,ional praerim in induStrial oc-
, Texas City committed its 63
the disaster

cupations established fot convenience or utility unknown dead to " God' s gracious mercy
but counte'poised ro safety must be te-exam- and protection, " These charred and brok-
ined, (DisabJing the High Flyer during load- en bodies brought to , 468 the known vic-
ing of hazardous chemical was a serious aCt tims of the blasts. Over 100 others are
leading ro rhe second fatal fire and explosion, still missing, The Red Cross reported
(9) Proper storage of petroleum produces 3000 injured , of whom more than 800

were hospitalized and 380 were still con- period of several days,
fined on June 1 , 1947, Two thousand Dollar losses are still indefinite and in-
people were given shelter following the surance claims not fully adjusted, Based
damages to homes in the city and 15, 000 on information available to the N,
people were fed during the emergency the following estimates are given below:
Property Damage
MonsantoChemicalCompany""",., ",' $14 750 000
Texas City Terminal Railway Co.. , , 11 450 000
",., 2
Dwelli,gs and contents ,

Texas City"", ",
Mercantile, city, and school pwperty, Texas Ci,y,
Humhle Pipe Line Company, , , , 1
Republic RefinI'g Company, , , , , , , , , 1
2, 1

Slips aod fUming basin, ,

Railwad rolling srock, , , , , , ,
Republic Terminal Co.. ' 300,
, 600
(2), 750
Ludlow ManufaCturing and Sales Co" , , , , 900 000
Automobile (1100 ms) and aircraft

" , ' 500

Sid Richa,dson Refining Co.. , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 300 000

American Refining Co, (Oil Docks),., 300

Graininelevaror."",..,..",.."..""", .. 300
Carbide and Ca,bon Chemical Co, (Terminal tanks), 250 000
SealIain Lines (Loading crane), "
" 200

Business Interruptian , Debris Removal and Incidental Expenditures,

Sub- total..."
, " $20 000 000 $38 800 000

$20 000 000

life, Accident, Workmen's Compenwion Insarance Loss ErtimaleS
Monsanto Company employees (Life and Workmen s Compensation
Insuranceestimate),.."" 000 000
Other life insurance estimated"""""."",.""" 000 000
Other Workmen s Compensa,ion I",urance estimated"."""" 000 000
Texas City Volunteer Fire DepaItmenr accident insurame estima,e, , , 75, 000

O,her accidenr insu,anre estima,e, , 125 000
200 000
Total.. $67 000 000

L"A.,.", Fi" D.", co", Co.""

T~e steel bo'ge whIch wo, ,o,"ed 100 f..1 i",ho,. by the di'pl".d wat., i, the ,lip
whe,. tho Grandcamp "ploded,




~ '0:

V. Details. compress building, built in 1915, which

was a one. story, sprinklered frame struc-
A. Texas City Terminal Railway Co,
ture, 22 610 sq. ft, in area and containing
The Texas City Terminal Railway Com- a small boiler plant; (2) the reinforced
pany is jointly owned by the Santa Fe concrete grain elevator , 171 ft, high and
Missouri- Kansas- Texas , and the Missouri the twelve adjoining reinforced concrete
Pacific Lines , and the Terminal is served tanks 98 ft. high and 24 ft. in diameter
by these railroads. The property was oper- erected in 1910; (3) the one- story shop,
ated as a rail terminal and possessed ware- generator and pump house of mixed con-
house and dock facilities, Pier and ter- struction erected during 1904- 10; (4) the
minal warehouses data , given below , show steel grain conveyor , 18 ft. wide and 790
that total floor area was 1 067 424 sq, ft. ft, long, extending from the grain elevator
(about 241'2 acres) under cover, to the roof (and 460 ft. along the roof)
Other buildings included: (1) the idle of Warehouse B , supported by steel frame-

T.... City T.,mloal Rollwoy Wo,.hou,."

Wo,.. Dol.
hou,. Co""'ucllo, F..tu,., E,.ct.d Oim.",lo", Tolo l Floo'A'.o
Steel frame, sh.., iron walls and roof,
Two fire division walls. One story. No,
sprinklered, 1914 155f"by880ft, 136 400 sq, ft.
Reinforced concrete. Two fire division
walls, One story. Automatic sprinklers, 1912 155 ft, by 880ft, 136 400 sq, ft.
Reinforced'concrete, Thr.. fire division
walls, Two slOries, AulOmatic sprin-
kleIS. 1929 120 ft, by 1160 ft, 278 400 sq. ft.
St..1 f,ame, brick and metal walls , con-
crete tile on st..1 truss roof. Two fire
walls, One story, Automatic sprinklers, 1910 100ft, by 750 ft, 75, 000 sq, ft.
Same as Wbse, C except no' sp,in.

Same as Whse. C except not sprin-
1911 100 ft, by 750 ft, 75, 000 sq, ft.

Uncertain 120 ft, by 520 ft. 62 400 sq, It,

NOte - The above warehouses , located on the waterfront , stood on filled earth,
Wbarf aprons were 36 ft, to 72 ft, wide, uncovered , wood flooring on wood piling
ove, water ,except for partially covered apron along north side of Whse, B , which
had concr'" floor on wood gi,deIS and pilings.
No, I Frame sidewalls with brick end walls
wood joist roof , 7 fi,e walls of 16 in,
brick. One story. Auromatic sp,inkIers, 1904 76ft, by1024ft, 824 sq, ft,
No, 2 Steel frame and metal walls with tile
on steel frame roof, One story, NOt
sprinklered, 1904 loofr, by 250ft, 25, 000 sq, ft.
No. 3 Same as No, 2, 1904 100 ft, by 250f" 25, 000 sq, ft,
No, 4 Same as No, 2, 1904 100 ft, by 250ft, 25, 000 sq, ft.
No, 5 Same as No, 1904 100 ft, by 250ft. 000 sq, ft,
No. 6 Wood frame (except one stone ven'er-
ed end wall) with meral walls and
roof, One story. One substandard divi.
sion wall. Auroma,ic sprinklers, 1904 90 f" by 1400 ft, 126 000 sq, ft,
Total 1 067, 424sq. ft,



V."'cal phologroph of Iha Mo",a,lo plo,l o,d o djol,l,g Terml,ol property two week. oft.r the e'plo,lo" Thl, pl,lu,. o,d olh., U, S, Army Ai,
Fa"., pholog,oph, w.,. loke, 10 sludy Ihe ,o",u,,'o, d.mog. .ffect, .,d 10 'ompore Ihem with bomb domage I,fi(,I.d " Europe o,d Jopo, du"'g
Wo,ld We' II.

work (erected 1929); and (5) a locomo.

tive shed of steel frame , metal-clad con-
The oil piers were wood and extended
1032 ft, into the bay on wood piling,
Smaller structures included a reinforced
concrete grain dryer house (16 ft, by 26
ft.), a frame stucco dock superintendent's
office (25 ft. by 80 ft.), another small
office of frame construction near the ele-
vator , two frame , meta1-clad auto sheds
and miscellaneous small buildings,
Water supplies for fire protection con-
sisted of one 100 000- gaL elevated , (100
tank which supplied the auto-
ft.) gravity'
matic sprinkler systems and the private
hydrants (except that 8 hydrants near
warehouses Nos. 2 , 3, 4 , 5 were fed from "FPA,
a second 1O0 000-gaI. tank used princi- Show, po" of fi,. ,.,i,tlv. w.,. hou,. D,
whIch ,.moi,.d up,ighl,
pally for domestic purposes), The main
fire serVice tank was supplied by a 600- sprinkler heads were installed in the pro-
gpm electric motor- driven service pump tected buildings and pressure from prima-
taking suction from a 300 000- gal. con-
ry supply was 42 lbs. on top line.
crete reservoir , which was filled from two
private wells having 230 and 240 gpm B. Monsanto Chemical Co.
This plant was built by the Defense
Plant Corporation in 1942 to augment the
supply of styrene in the wartime synthetic
rubber program , at a cost of approximately
$18 000 000. It was purchased by the
Monsanto Chemical Co, in 1946 and was
in operation at the time of the disaster
producing styrene and polystyrene plastic
Well laid out on a rectangular water-
front tract approximately 1300 ft, by 1450
ft, (430 acres), the property was for-
merly occupied by a sugar refinery and
L" A",.." Fi.. D,p"- C'P" C,"li", some of the older utility and office struc.
VI.w of ,.I,fo", d ,0",.1. colum, f. llu,. tures were originally part of this enter-
I, Wo,.hou,. "
prise, The construction was chiefly struc-
capacity electric pumps. Secondary sup- tural steel and masonry for major build-
plies were from two 1000- gpm electric fire ings and open steel framework for ~rocess.
pumps also taking suction from the reser- ing units, Spacing of structures was ade-

voir. A good system of 6 and 8. in, mains quate for safety, and fire protection meas-
supplied sprinkler systems and private hy- ures had been thoughtfully planned and
drants, There was no connection to public executed, The severe damage done to the
y.oater sources or mains, A total of 8850 installation cannot be ascribed to any fail-

ure to provide adequate resistance or pro- had not construction and layout been su-
tection from explosion or fire , and , as a perior. The fire protection provided was
matter of judgment , it was obvious that nevertheless , rendered ineffective by the
even greater damages might have resulted initial explosion,

Mo;' U,It G,oupi'g' of Mo",o,lo SI,uclu,."

Nom. Domog' D.",lptio,
1. Polystyrene Building Toral C- A five- srory masonry and sreel struCture
(formerly ,he sugar house of the old sugar
refinery) used in plastic produCtion and for
Adjoi,ing Warehouses Total C- Warehouses adjoining we,e one and two.
StOry masonty and steel mucrures , rhe one
story seCtion exrending alnng thc waterfront.
Tbe latter building was only 300 II. from
the Grandramp,

2, Steam Plant aod Power To,al C- One story masonry and steel building ad-
House joini'g Polystyrene Building on the east;
concrere srack, Building 500 fee, from
3, Office Building MajutC Three- story masonry and sreel wi,h concrere
roof and 800rs,
Service Building MajorC Two-story masonry and steel wi th third
story in process of co",tIUCtion,

Laborawry Total C- One srory, brick , wood joist,

4, Warehouse Total Cc One story masoory and steel direcdy behind
Polystyrene Building.
Inmumem Shop Taral C- One story, brick, wood ioist also behind
Polystyrene Building.
S. E,hylene Purifica,ion Majo, IO Light Two 60 ft, fraCtionating rowers supported
UnitS by steel framework , two heater buildings
wi,h steel framework and refraCtory heaters
six compressor unirs in a steel f,ame, asphalt
proteCted , meral building, and a masonry
and steel control house,
6, Alkylation Unit
Major except 40 ft, unit supported by heavy
steel framework with convener equipmem
F ,eaCtors barrel
, and control house, Four SOO-
storage tanks , one 2S0- barrel storage rank,

7, DIstillation UnitS 1 , 2 Tower" Un;' I Two separate rower groups 190 ft. in height
Major; Unit 2 each baving twO vacuum fraCtionating col-
Considerable; ~mns 165 ft. high , 10 ft, in diamerer with
Unit 3, Slight. six smaller rowers , all emb,aced in steel
Towerswithstood framework, Each group has itS own auxiliary
, damaged by equipmem , comrol room , and borizontal
MandF. Control tanks adjacem to the base of the tower, Pip-
houses heavily ;;n
damaged by C, ~1~d :~~~~~~:;s ;.:~~: a ~Ju~~::'J;':':~:
8, Cracking Unir CandM Twenty low pressure , bigh temperature
Moderate cracking unitS in struCtUral sreel f,amework
with control room of masonry construCtion,
9, Debydrogenation Uni, CaodM A series of catalytic Ctacking furnaces and
Light chambers and steam superheaters in Steel
f,amework with masonry enclosed control
and inStIum,m room,

10, Pump House Heavy to Brick- steel joist building housing nine sea
building, light to wa'er pumps for domeStic use, Fire pump
comems (1000 GPM Steam unit) located in sepa'ate
subterranean muCture on barbor bank,

11. Tankaget B,"zol TOtal C- Three lo ooo- barrel tanks of benzol on eaSt
and north sides of area destroyed,
Other Large Atmospheric Total C- A tOtal of 14 situated throughout the plant
Pressure Tanks destroyed, Contained low pressure hydLO-
Propane Pressu,e Taoks LightC Eight tanks (510 barrels capacity each) on
conere'e pillars , comaining propane , with-
Stood blaStS and exposure fires,
Small Atmospheric Varied Heavy to Approximarely 25 ranks , horizontal and ver-
Pressure Tanks Ligh, C- tical types , located adjacent to processing
uniIS. HeavieSt damage to 4 venical tanks
near DiStillation Units,
12. Fire Department and TotalC Torally destroyed; buildings of light con-
Foam House struCtion,
'C-concussion Damages; F-Fire Damages; M-Missile Damages,
tSee also Part C , this seCtion , on major ,ankage.

C. Oil Tank Farms and Refineries, ed office building in half. Fortunately,

The nearest refinery processing and ser- vital and hazardous areas were not struck.
vice equipment within a mile and a half The refinery area proper of the Stone Oil
radius from the Texas City Terminal area Company suffered serious damage only at
was fortunately two- thirds of a mile dis- one of the shell stills which was struck by
tant. By virtue of this fact alone, the dam- a missile from the Grandcamp explosion
age to the actual processing units of the causing ignition of released vapors, This
Republic , Stone, and Richardson s Refining fire was extinguished before serious com-
Companies was limited, Concussion dam- plications ensued. The Richardson refin-
ages in the Republic process area was the ery facilities sustained only superficial
most severe of the three , but was not suffi- damage from the shock waves and missiles.
cient to halt operations, A missile from A summary of the petroleum tankage in
the High Flyer weighing over a ton , 'Vir- the area and the damage sustained by fire
tually sliced the 2- story, brick , wood- joist. is given below.

Appro,imotio", of Slack, i, To,k, (IO OOO- horrel 0' Lo'ger CepocilyJ .,d Their Fire Domoges
" Ih. Fe,m e,d,.'Y A,... WilhI, I !!,-mlle Redlu, of Tem;,ol,
(Quamities expressed in 42. gal. barrels)
'g,iI.d Di,ectf,om Ig,iI.d f,om Expo,-

Typ. Hyd,oco,bo,
Slack of Oil
;,T.,k,o, No,
Apdl161h T.,k,
ol Esplos;o, Mi"lIe,
Slo,k No,
Qly, To,k,
u,e T o,k RIO,
Slo,k No,
Qty, To,k,
Narural Gasoline (14 lb, and
lighter) 500 None None None None
Gasoline and Naphthas, ., " . 293, 000 400 None None
Crude OiL",..,.."".... 995, 000 232 900 139, 900 4
Kerosene and Gas OiL, , , , , , 431 250 None None 600
Topped C,ude and Miscella.
neous O,her, 950 None None None None
Residual Fuel Oil.., , 23, 000 No" None None None
Benzol , Other Atomatics,.,.. 29, 600 29, 600
TotaL""...." .... 853, 300 102 265 900 145 500
*Figu,es secured f,om report by Geo'ge ArmiStead , J', Smaller tanks (less ,ban 10 000 bar-
rels) not included,









~ 1

Several observations are in order con-

cerning the statistics given above,
1. The total capacity of the 120 major
tanks was 6 324 500 barrels , but 102 of
these were only 29 per cent full (1 853,
300 barrels) on the day of the explosion,
2, On the basis of stock susceptible to
fire loss in these tanks (1 853, 300 bar-
rels), only 22 per cent burned (411 400
barrels) ,
3, On the basis of total major tanks
subject (120), only 15 per cent (18)
were ignited by either direct blast damage
or exposure,
4, Of the 18 major tanks which ignit-
, 8 were directly ignited following the
Grandcamp explosion , 6 following the
High Flyer blast, and 4 additional due to NFPA.
exposure conditions after the second blast, Fi,..,.,;,liv. g,oI,, 0' tho T.,mI,ol
p,op."Y (domog.d mo,. Ih" photo lIIu,.
5, The high loss of crude oil was prin- hol.') o,d collop,.d ,oov.yo"
cipally caused by the burning of the
tanks in the Humble area where tankage to the blasts and it is reasonable that any
was over 50 per cent full , , and 80 per cent other flammable liquid in those tanks
of this fuel was burned, would have been ignited. There is little
6, The losses of low- flash point fuels relation , therefore , between relative flam-
were low (except for benzol), principally mability and losses; it is obvious instead,
because of distance factors. Benzol losses that location and the missile trajectories
were high because of their close proximity influenced losses.
Other interesting factors concerning the
oil tank fires can be briefly mentioned:
1. The damage of the oil facilities was
of three types:
(a) Concussion: tank roofs of wood or
sheet steel were pushed down (rafters and
other supports failing through overload)
and shells of empty tanks were dented , but
falces applied horizontally were not suffi-
cient, to cause collapse,
(b) Missiles: hot and cold missiles
weighing from a few ounces to nearly 100
tons , fell in farm areas, In nearby areas
trajectories were flat , increasing toward
the vertical as range increased. At
miles the missiles fell almost vertically,
Tank roofs , thin- walled pipes , upper shell
Thi, photo wo, tok.n wIthI, ,.,o,d, of 0 courses of large tanks were perforated,
bollov., " e crud. 0;1 lo,k I, the Humbl. Few missiles striking tanks on a horizon-
Te,k Fo,m, ThI, IgnIt.d 0 to,k of bu,k., 0;1
p,.vIou,ly ,01 Involved,
tal plane had sufficient force to pierce tank

by the force of gas explosions which , in

turn , was influenced by the volume of
liquid in the tank at time of ignition, The
higher percentage of volume of liquid , the
less the violence of the gas expansion,
3. Boilover occurred in one observed
case in the Humble Farm , resulting in the
spread of fire from a tank of crude oil to
a large tank containing bunker oil which
otherwise would not have been partially
lost, (The bunker tank was subsequently
4. Several " empty " tanks were explod-
ed by hot missiles or friction sparks. Frag-
mentation from these detonations was not
serious , few portions being carried beyond
5, Where inadequate vents were pro-
vided , tanks subject to heat from fires were
W",kog. of pipI,g .. b.,. of .Ihyl.,.
pu,m,otlo, f,octlo,.tlo, low." I, Mo",.,lo distorted from internal pressures, In the
plo,l, Carbide and Carbon Chemical Co. tank
area this was particularly noticeable, An
shells, Where explosive mixtures existed
aluminum tank containing isopropyl ace-
explosions resulted , followed by fire.
(c) Fires: most of the fires are believed
tate (flash point 40. F, ) burned and
melted to the ground , presumably due to
to have been caused by heated missiles
the lack of a flash arrester. Adjacent
(above ignition temperature of flammable
tanks , including three identical aluminum
liquid vapors) especially in nearby Ter-
tanks , were distorted as well as lifted from
minal farm areas (and in the Monsanto
their foundations,
plant), This is supported by the fact that
only hot missiles could have ignited
wooden wharf planking, wood roofing of
tanks , and pile clusters in the surrounding
regions, Evidence also supports the theory
that hot missiles were in greater abun-
dance following the High Flyer blast and
more fires in nearby farm areas resulted
from this explosion than from the Grand-
camp, (It will be remembered that the fire
is known to have burned for seven hours
before the High Flyer blast and only one
hour prior to the Grandcamp explosion,
This would result-)n high temperatures
developing in the , former case. Also the
fire is known to have involved several
holds on the Flyer rather than No. 4 only
on the Grandcamp,
2, Whether tank roofs were blown NFPA,
off or collapsed insid~ following a con- Fo;lu,. of b,Id well I, Mo",o,lo Pump
siderable period of burning was influenced Hous.,

D. City of Texas City. while even farther from the source of the
The closest dwelling properties were blast , the negative pressure effect (uplift-
approximately a half mile from the core ing of roofs) was readily discernible.
of the explosion, Such segregation was in- The school building was located about
deed fortunate for , while the damages sus- a mile from the Terminal. Damage to this
tained were serious , the distance factor story structure was of interest, as every
must be looked upon as a mitigating ele- partition inside was destroyed ,
while the
ment. Other cities are not so fortunately brick exterior walls were not damaged,
zoned, The school was in session and while many
Frame bungalow type , single and double children were injured , none were killed
family structures were severely battered
and teachers evacuated the children from
the building and the area promptly,
many totally collapsing, in an area roughly
mile from the Terminal docks, This
In the mercantile district many build-
heaviest damage included , approximately ings of brick wood- joist brick veneer , and
12 blocks , which contained perhaps 150 stucco construction were heavily damaged
homes, Beyond this area and within a the higher buildings and those of largest
radius of a mile , damage to dwellings was area suffering the greatest loss, Two the-
atres suffered roof collapse , while several
chiefly to roofs , windows , and porches
story mercantiles had similar damage,
although many were so struck by the con-
Plate glass loss was extremely heavy
cussion waves that they were rendered un-
safe for occupancy, Walls shifting off throughout the business district,
their foundations and thrown out of align- In a survey of all dwelling and business
ment were chiefly responsible, Beyond buildings , 539 were condemned as unsafe
the mile radius and up to approximately
out of a total of 1500 inspected,
10 miles , window glass damage was E. Miscellaneous Properties Involved,
extensive and some mls~iles pierced roofs. I. The V."el"
Concussion damage in the closer build- The S, S, Grandcamp (French Line)
ing was too complete to determine how totally disintegrated from the explosion,
the forces were applied , but in those some The ship was built in 1942 and was for-
distance away evidence showed downward merly the S, S, Benjamin R. Curlis,

pressure zones formed a decided pattern Liberty type , the vessel was 422 ft. long,

L" A."", D,p""""P" Con""

D,m'g.lo dwelJi'g' i, Ihe ,.,id.,tl.I.... of T.... City avec. m ile trom Ihe ..plo,'o""

had a gross tonnage of 71 76 , and had 5 (Hold No, 4 where explosion occurred
cargo hatches, Cargo on board the vessel was aft of midship house, ) The difference
included 2339, 69 tons of ammonium ni- is accountable due to the lifting of the
trate , 380 bales of cotton , 16 cases of am- water in this slip and its resettling plus
munition and unknown quantities of the destruction of the earth foundation of
binder twine, tobacco , shelled peanuts Pier 0.
machinery and drill stem,
(Lykes Bros, 3, OIl Shippi'g F.cili"."
The S, S, High Flyer

Steamship Co" Inc, ) also totally disinte-

Almost all of the waterfront area was
arranged for bulle shipment and receipt of
grated from the explosion aboard that
petroleum except on " Pier 0 " where the
vessel. The ship was built in 1944 and
Grandcamp was docked, Extensive pipe
was a C-2 type , with a length of 438 ft.
lines to tanker loading and unloading
and a gross tonnage of 6214, There were
berths fronted at " Piers " C and 0, Wood
five cargo hatches and , at the time.of the
piling supported the piping at this loca-
explosion , contained 961 tons of am-
tion, Fire caused extensive damage in this
monium nitrate , 871 tons of knocked
area , but it could not be determined what
down box cars and 2000 tons of sulphur,
Wilsoll B, Keene (Lykes Bros, precise sequence of events preceded their
TheS, S,
outbreaks, It is known that missile dam-
Steamship Co" Inc, ), is considered a total
age on some pipes released oil , which was
loss , although the bow portion remained
subsequently ignited and undoubtedly
visible. This vessel was a Liberty ship of
the same type as the S, S, Grandcamp and contributed to the extensive damage to
rgo of 445 tons of flour when the these facilities, The oil dock equipment at
had a ca
the South Slip was almost totally ruined,
explosion occurred.
The well- segregated oil shipping units
2, Th. Tu"I'g B.,i, aod SlIp', of the Pan American Refining Corporation
Major obstructions in the turning basin below the South Slip and facing on the
were removed by the Corps of Engineers channel were comparatively undamaged,
at an estimated cost of $15, 000. The larg- A few small fires in this area destroyed
est item removed was a 35- ton portion of approaches and are believed to have orig-
a ship s hull , undoubtedly from the High
inated from burning oil on the water's
Flyer, Other pieces of bent , twisted and surface from spills in the South Slip
ragged steel plate weighing from 13 tons facilities,
to ton were lifted from the basin at
points up to 600 feet off the bay end of 4, S..I,.i, Loodi'g C,o,",
Pier " B , where the average depth is 35 ft. Damage to this installation was caused
Soundings taken in the main slip be- by flying missiles which struck the steel
neath the High Flyer anchorage reveal a supporting legs with such force as to
crater 63 ft: deep, The pre- explosion bend main members , throwing the struc-
depth was 34 feet , with the last previous ture out of alignment.
dredging completed in December , 1946,
No unexploded ammonium nitrate could 5, Mol",., T.,mi"I,

be found in this slip following several Three tanks , located in a group directly
days of exploration by a diver. Soundings opposite " Pier 0" were collapsed by the
taken in the North Slip when the Grand- concussion. One of these had a capacity
camp exploded did not reveal any sub- about 10 000 barrels , while the other two
stantial crater; rather soundings showed a were 2000 barrel size, Small wooden
depth of only 20- 25 ft, in a position near buildings were also collapsed, There was
the stern and 30- 33 ft. at the bow end, no fire observed in thls area,

6, Ro. dw.y" longed to employees working in the im-

Only a single access road serviced the mediate vicinity and to those curious peo-
Terminal area, This road passed directly ple who came to the dock area to witness
in front of " Piers " and the North and the pre. explosion fire on the Grandcamp.
Main slips, The explosion of the Grand- In addition , the Texas City fire depart-
camp caused the barge Leghorn II to be ment trucks , cars belonging to volunteer
cast across this roadway and littered the members and a host of other vehicles in
area with heavy debris which made it un- the area at the time of the High Flyer
usable for traffic, The collapse of the blast were wrecked, Two aircraft were de-
grain conveyor from the High Flyer blast stroyed by the concussion waves as they
similarly cut the road to traffic and again flew over the terminal when the first ship
cast heavy steel objects across the single exploded,
artery, The effects of this damage handi- F. The Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer.
capped rescue activity measurably, Bay St, I, P,oducHo"
and South St, in the town were also badly
The ammonium nitrate fertilizer in-
pock- marked and caved by heavy missiles,
volved at Texas City was produced at the
7. Roll,ood Ro lli'g Slack, Iowa Ordnance Plant, Burlington , Iowa;
A survey showed that 360 freight cars the Cornhuskers Ordnance Plant, Coplant
(mostly of the box car type) were de- Nebraska; and the Nebraska Ordnance
stroyed or heavily damaged. Many con- Plant, Wahoo , Nebraska, These facilities
tained flour and were ignited by hot mis- are operated on a contracting basis by the
siles which penetrated roofs or caught fire Emergency Export Corporation' for the
from adjacent burning structures, Ordnance Department , United States
8, Aulomobil.. .,d AI",.ft, Army.
No accurate count of the number of Basically the production techniques fol-
automobiles destroyed is available , but lowed at these facilities , which are actually
estimates run to 1100, Most of these be. graining plants , are to process ammonium

Bo""o Mi...,
Showi'9 molhod of loo di'g .mmo,Ium ,It,.to fo"ilizor oboord ,hip, Nolo 100 lb.
bog, .,d co""trolod pili'g. B,ok., bog, ." vi"blo i, 0'I9I,.1 pri,l " I.ft fo,.g,ou,d,

nitrate liquor received in tank cars by: which contained less than 1 per cent mois-
(1) lancing (to dissolve the crystallized ture and was ground so that 97 per cent
ammonium nitrate); (2) evaporating- would pass a 200- mesh sieve,
maximum temperature allowable , 3250 F, It may be observed from this informa-
(to change the liquor to a molten form); tion that the material was of standard
(3) graining (to provide proper granula- grade and tests of samples of all the box-
tion); (4) waxing (to minimize moisture car lots shipped to Texas City failed to
absorption by the granules); (5) adding reveal any decomposition or chemical
clay (to assist in providing a free flowing changes in the material. These tests were
product); (6) bagging. The finished prod- conducted by the Emergency Export Corp,
uct is required to meet the following gov- and the Bureau of Explosives , Association
ernment specifications: of American Railroads, The processes at
Moisture content", , , , , , , ' , , 25% maximum each plant were examined by chemical
Ether soluble mate,ial (wax), , 75%='=0, 35% engineers of the U, S. Bureau of Mines
Water insoluble marerial and it appeared unlikely that any materials
(day) ".,.""" 350%='=1.00%
TOtal niuogen"",.."", 32, 50%minimum other than normal constituents could have
Granulation specifications called for re- been incorporated in the product,
quire 100 per cent minimum pass through The only observations of possible signif-
aU, S, Standard No, 8 sieve , 55 per cent icance to the fires and explosions at Texas
minimum through a No, 35, and 8 per City with regard to the manufacture proc-
cent maximum through a No, 100 sieve, esses employed are:
The ammonium nitrate liquor used was 1. The paraffin wax was in direct con-
also governed by strict government specifi- tact with the ammonium nitrate, a strong
cations as follows: oxidizing agent. Under conditions of high
Ammonium nitrate, minimum, ,.",, 70, heat (as by fire), chemical reactions which
Acidity.. None would be self- sustaining would result be-
Alkalinity, maximum"., ,, 05% tween the two materials.
Pbenol..... .......
Nitrites,.."" "
2, The paper bagging was a readily
ignitable material and tests on small sam-
Ether soluble material , maximum, " , ' , 10% ples filled with the fertilizer showed that
Water- insoluble material , maximum" . 30% it would ignite when subject to a heat of
Ferrocyanides , maximum".,.."". , 10% 3000 F, for five or six hours, A steampipe
Pyridine , maximum"".,." , 005%
would provide this much heat under cer-
Thiocyanates , maximum, , 01%
Sulphates , maximum""", '" , 50%
tain conditions, The bagging when

filled with fertilizer did not ignite in simi-

Chlorides , maximum, 1.50%
lar tests,
The wax used was purchased from a
3, The multi. walled paper bags were
single company and had the following
so constructed that the second slieets from
manufacturers ' specifications:
the outside and inside were impregnated
Hydromete' indication at 160 0 F, (API) .43. with an asphaltic material to provide
0 F,
Flash point (ASTM D92. 46)" , 470 A90
0- 0 F. moisture resistance, This material would
Fire point (ASTM D92- 46) , " ,, 540 560
Viscosity, S, U, a, 2100 F. (ASTM
increase the heat of combustion,
D88. 44) .... 47- 4, The labeling on the bags gave no
Oil content (ASTM D721- 44) , , , , " , 11- 14% indication that the material was hazardous
Melting point (ASTM D87- 42) , , 139 145 0 F, and did not conform strictly to regula-
Peneuation , needle (ASTM D5- 25),." . 50. tions in that the name " Fertilizer " pre-
Colo,.., Brown ceded the designation " Ammonium Ni-
All the plants used a kaolin-type clay trate " instead of vice versa,

ance or non- compliance in the cases of the

two Texas City explosions:
Rogul,tiocs T.", City

1. The sub"ance shall not be

"owed in ,he same com.
partment or hold:
(a) In which explosives No violations
a,e "owed, (small arms
in sepa'ate
hold on the
B."," of Mi"", Grandeamp)
Slow'go o f ,mmo,ium ,It"I. f."iliz.,
,hip , hold, ,howI'g ",go b.Ho""
(b) In wbich acids 0' other No violation
corrosive liquids are
"owed , all chlorates
5, The material. bei!lg in a fine granu- and other nitra,es,
lar form , could easily escape from the bag- (c) In which flammable Noviolation
ging if the latter was damaged, liquids a,e "owed.
(d) In which corron , sui. Noviolation
2, Ho,dli'g, phur in bulk , or char-
The ammonium nitrate fertilizer was coal a,e "owed,
shipped to Texas City via rail on govern- 2, The sub"ance shall not be No violation
ment bills of lading designated as " Ferti- "owed in a hold over or (sulphur in
under one in which sulphur separate
lizer Compound (Manufactured fertilizer) in bulk is "owed. High
hold on rhe
NOIBN , Dry, in paper bags (Fertilizer Flyer)
grade Ammonium Nitrate), " (NOIBN 3, The sub"ance shall not be No viola,ion
stands for " not otherwise indexed by "owed in proximity to
name, ) The material was consigned to readily combuStible mate-
rials such as textile prod-
the " French Supply Council , Transit Divi- ucrs,
sion " and was stored in Warehouse 0 4, All containers shall be tigh,; Violation
pending shipment abroad, no leaking or sifting con-
Loading on the Grandcamp was accom- rainers or comainers tbar
give evidence of leaking or
plished by stevedores who apparently had sIfting shall be placed on
no specialized knowledge of the fire and board the vessel.
explosion hazards of the material. Crew 5, Shipper is required to give Violation
members of the Grandcamp who survived writren norification in ad-
vance to ,he oessel regard-
(seven out of th, total complement of 41) ing the charaCIeri"ics of a
similarly displayed ignorance of the haz- dangerous cargo,
ards of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. All 6, No smoking during loading Violation
those who testified at the official U, S, operations,
Coast Guald inquiry also showed a lack of The three specific violations are cited
knowledge of the regulations governing as contributing factors to the fires and
handling of the material as published by explosions aboard the Grandcamp and
the Bureau of Marine Inspection and High Flyer,
Navigation , U. S. Department of Com-
3, Ch...cto,i,tics Followi'g Ig,illo,.
merce and the U, S, CoaS1 Guard, These
Ammonium nitrate , like any nitrate , sup-
rules are contained in " Regulations Gov-
plies oxygen when heated and thus pas.
erning Explosives and Other Dangerous
sesses hazardous qualities when viewed
Articles on Board Vessels " and are dated
from the fire propagation and explosion
April 9, 1941. The essential provisions of
potential viewpoints, Decomposition of
these regulations as affect ammonium ni-
trate , follow , with indications of compli-
ammonium nitrate into ammonia and

be expected to cause a violent explosive

nitric acid is rapid above 1760 F, (NH,-
NO. -+HNO. + NH. ), Nitric acid act- reaction, It may be stated conclusively
ing on organic material releases oxygen to that fires caused the explosions and that
form nitrous acid and then in succession they occurred without an impact force or
nitrogen , water and nitrogen tetroxide , an detoDator, What caused the fire in the
even more vigorous oxidizing reagent, Gl'andcamp will never be known with cer-
tainty. It reasonably could have origi-
The reactions and reversible reactions of
the decomposition products are too com-
nated from nothing more spectacular than
plex chemically for detailed explanation in a carelessly discarded cigarette or match or
this article, It is significant , however , that possibly ignition of bagging following

they are accompanied by exothermic heats prolonged exposure (five or six hours per-
haps) to steam pipes reaching a heat of
which quickly bring about an explosion
potential. Other factors (besides tempera-
approximately 3000 F, The fire on the
ture), affecting explosion hazard and re- High Flyel' was caused by exposure condi-
marks concerning their part in the disaster tions and most probably could have been
are listed: prevented if the ship had been withdrawn
from the danger area during the nine- hour
F.clo" Fovo,;'g Esplo.
';0' U, d., FI,e period between the first explosion (9:12
Co, dllio", Rem"ks ) and the first indication of fire on the
1. Sreeng,h of detOna,ion No pre- explosion High Flyer (about '6:00 P, ) or even
impulse -- ,he g,eater derona,ion impulses
,he impulse ,be greater a, Texas City, later (prior to 1:10 A, fighting
) if fire-

the explosion hazard, facilities had been available and properly

2, Density of Stowage- High densities pres-
,he higher ,he density ent in holds of both
,he more violem ,he ships, 4, Esplo,io, P,.ve,lio, P,.clices.
explosion, It would be good practice to adopt the
3, Packaging-loose ma- Paper bag breakage following precautions to prevent another
te,ial which is ,ubject noted a' Texas City,
to g,ea,er contamina- disaster involving ammonium nitrate fer-
,ion increases explo. tilizers:
sion potentia!.
4, PartIcle size - the Granulation accord- 1. Exercise srrict control ove, purity ar point
of manufacture to p,event comamination
smaller the panicles ing to Governmem
specifications, with acids , oxidizable , organic (carbona-
the greater the expIo-
sio, haza,d,
ceous) mm,ials,
5, Moisrure content- the Dry, unseasonably 2, In mixed fertilizers (i, e" superphosphates
lower ,he moisture cool wea,he, on
ammonium ,irea,e, and o'ganic meals).
neurealization will be requi,ed to avoid
content , the greate' ,he Ap,il 16 , 17, with
explosion haza,d. 20 MPH , NNW haza,d of spontaneous ig,ition, (Trea,-
wind, ment of the superphospha,e wi,h ammonia
has been successful if applied properly,
6, Impurities - acids No known impuri-
oxidizable materials ties, ParaffIn wax 3, StOrage of the ma,e,ial in warehouses 0'
stOwage on ships should foJlow p,esent re-
organic mate,ials in- coating aod asphaltic quir,ments -:-seg,ega,ion from organic
crease explosion haz- bag coa,ing only
aCIdIC , oxidizable , htghly combusrible 0'
a,d while alkali or al. possibilities known, explosive mare,ials and stO,age in separare
kali,e eanh tend ro
fire areas from la'ge concenreations of
de-sensitize, o,dinary combusrible marerials, In addi-
Ammonium nitrate will propagate its tion , ventilation , limira,ion of amoums
scored in a single area and accessibility fo,
own explosion wave, Under conditions as fire figh,ing should be considered, Auto-
at Texas City where the high concentra- ma,ic sprinkle, pro,ection is recommended
for all stO,age warehouses handling ,be
tions of small grain , treated fertilizer were mare"a!. Srorage should maintain safe
stowed within the confined space in the cleara",e from sream lines aod elemical
holds of ships and subject to fires , the in- wiring,
tense heat of decomposition could logically 4, Handling in reansit requi,es ,be same pre-

, a "-


~ ~JJ

: 1

cautions againSt contaminarion as in Stor- Gas masks should be worn by fire fight-
age, ers , as the oxides of nitrogen are toxic.
' or
5. Packaging should be in metal drums
cigbt wooden casks to prevent amdental 6, P,evIou, M.ior Fi,., "d "'plo,;o""
spillage, Any drums or casks spIlt or 1906, Witt." G.,ma,y' Explosion involving
broken in handling or stOrage sbould be ammonium nitrate , TNT, and potassium
removed and spillage disposed of imme- nitrate. Cause unknown,
diately in a safe manner, Ja,ua,y 14 , 1916 , Gibb"ow" N, J" Explosion
6, Labeling requirements sh~uld include of concentrate solution of ammonium nitrate
ma,kings in conformance with Standards during crystallizaci on,
presently ,ecommended for oxidizing ~a- July 30 , 1916, Wu,g., dorf, Ge,ma,y' Explo-
te,ials , indicaring the haz:udous properties of compound 80% ammonium nitrate
of the chemical. 12% TNT and 4% nitroglycerin and g,ain
7, DetOnators should not be used '0 break up mill. Sun on metal drums caused decomposi-
caked materials, cion,
8. StriCt no smoking rules should be enforced Seplemb., 15 , 1916. O.kdale , N, J. , Explosion
during Storage and handling, ~~d rhe use during manufacture of ammonium nitrate in
of any open Hame devices' prohibited, cryStallizing pans,
Oclob., 4. 1918 , Mo'go" N, J. , Explnsion of
5, FI,. Fighll'g Ope roll 0"" 000 pounds of pure ammonium nitrate

In case of fire , immediate application of and 12 000 000 pounds of amatol (a miXtUre
of 80% ammonium nItrate and 20% TNT),
water in large quantities is probably the Fi,e believed ,esponsible for causing explo-
best procedure , even though a large water sions,
loss may result , as the ammonium nitrate is April 12 , 1920 , Sloiberg, Germany, Explosion
highly soluble in water. As ammonium of mixtu,e of ammo,ium nitrate, powdered
aluminum and TNT being converted from
nitrate is dissolved in water a cooling explosive intO fertilizer. Material had caked
effect is produced (unlike many chemicals and explosion resulted from atr,,"pts to
break up mass.
which produce heat when dissolving in Ap,il 19 , 1920 , 8rookly' , N. y" SteamerHall-
water), fried-.:hlorate fire involved 8460 casks con.
Carbon dioxide , foam and other extin- taining 4 230 000 pounds of ammonium ni-
tra,e, App,oximately 3900 casks burned,
guishment agents of the smothering type Minor explosions but none severe enough to
are ineffective, because ammonium nitrate cause ship to dIsintegrate,
provides its own oxygen for combustion, Ap,1I 26, I92I , K,iewold , Germ.,y' Explosion

Steam is of no value whatsoever, of ammonium nitrate in two railroad cars be-

lieved caused by attempts to blast caked
As in the case of any nitrate fire of
mass. 19 persons killed,
major proportions , caution should be used September 21 , 1921, Opp.u , G.,m.,y' Explo-
in applying hose streams , as the sudden sion of 5000 short tons of ammonium nitrate
and ammonium sulfate following dynamite
formation of steam may cause minor ex- blasting of caked materials, 586 killed , 1952
plosions which will scatter the burning iniured , and 2138 buildings destroyed,
material. Nevertheless , hose streams , ap- Ap,il 4 , M.y 3, 1925, Mu,ci. Shoal" AI.bam.,
plied from a considerable distance or from Two sepa..te fi,es involving railroad em
containing ammonium nitrate in wooden bar-
behind some barricade , apparently are the rels, No report of explosion,
only practical method of fighting such a M.y 7 , 1925. EmporIum , Pe,",ylv.,I., Explosion
fire, in an evaporaci'g pan during reprocessing
One killed,
Automatic sprinkler protection for
buildings where ammonium nitrate is VI. References.
stored is highly desirable , as it provides Special acknowledgment and thanks
prompt application of water in case of fire are expressed to the following individuals
without exposing fire fighters to personal who contributed in a personal way to the
danger, However, as in the case of any A. investigation of this disaster:
commodity, the nitrate should be placed in Aaron Sergeant , Houston Police Dept,
Boone, Henry R" Capt" Los Angeles Fire Dept.
piles of moderate size and height to per- Braidech , M, M" Nacional Board of Fi,e Un-
mit effective action by the sprinklers, derwriters.

Bude" W, T" U, 05, Coast Gua,d, Maps af Texas City, Showing Damage Caased
16. 17, Sanborn
Conlin , C. A" J'" Capt" Lo s Angeles Fire D,pt, by APril 1947, Explosion,

Davis , H, H" Fire Prevenuon and E'gllleenng -Map Co,

Observations Relating to the Texas City Disas.
Bureau of Texas, Texas Srate Dep', of Hea!rh, (May I
Fe'guson , C. W" Oil Insurance Assn, of Texas,
G,oss , Harry, Capt" Los Angeles Fire Dept, 1947,
Los An-
Hanson , R, J" M, LT, Observations of Texas City DisasJer,
geles Ha,bor Dept, (May 20 , 1947,
Higbee , F. D" Warden , Port of Los Angeles, as
Keepers , Hugh V" Fi,e Prevention and En-
Preparation of Ammonium Nitrate for Use

gIneering Bureau of Texas, Fertiliur. Technical Bulletin No, 912, U, S,

Ricba,dson , G, W" ACting Chief, Houston Fire ~:~di ~:/~t'J~'"J:~,, ~~~~l Council,
~:S~sey, Roy E. , Chief , Houston Fire Dept, USCG, (June, 1947,
Release, Disasters, Hq" Fourth Army, Fort
Sam Houston , Texas, (May 12 , 1947,
Special credits are given to, the follow- Report on Texas City," FQ(;tory Mutual Record
ing sources of information (other than (June , 1947), Assotiated FaCtory Mutual
previous N, A, publicatio ~s) which Fire Insurance Cos" InspeCtion Dept,
Survey by the Reprosentalive of the Port Pro-
have been used in compiling thiS lepolt: tection Committee of Texas City, Galveston,
A,mistead , Geo'ge , Jr, The Ship Expl~sions at Port Arthur, Beaumont, The Commirtee,
Tex'" City, Texas. (June I , 1947, En-
(May 19, 1947,
Brief Report aJ Texas Oty Disaster,
U. S. The Texas City Disaster, Report, Monsanto
gineer Office , Galveston , Texas, (Apnl 24 Chemical Co, (April 30 , 1947.
Texas City Exflosion, Partial Report ~f Dam-
;f~~' iw, T, Address, 51st annual meeting, age, U, S, Army Service Fortes , Co'ps of En.
NFPA, (May 28 , 1947. gineers , Galveston DistriCt, (April 27, 1947,
Coast Guard Preliminary Findings at Texas Texas City, Texas , Disaster, Fire Prevention
City, U, S, Coast Gua,d, (May 28, 1947) and Engineering Bureau of Texas and the
mceung, Narional Boa,d of Fire Underwriters,
Comegys , C. N, Address, 51st annual
NFPA, (May 28, 1947, Texas City Terminal !Wilway Co, InspeCtion re-
) Conunenral
(May, 1947, port. Fire Prevention and Engineering Bu-
Continental News.
Casualty Co, reau of Texas. (Marth 9, 1945,
Davis R, 0, E" an d Ha,desty, J. 0" " Org~nic In addition , letters from the following
;erial and Ammonium Nitrate in Feruhzer
Mixtures," rndusJrial and Engineering Chem- individuals are acknowledged:
isJry, (January, 1945, Atmistead , George , Jr., Washington, D, C.
Davis R, O. E" and Hardesty, J, 0, "
Sponra- Booker , H, K. , North American Cyanamid , Ltd,
neo~s Developmenr of Heat in Mixed Fertil- Boone , Henry R. , City of Los Angeles , Depart-
izers," Industrial and Engineering ChemlsJry, ment of Fire,
(December, 1946. Butler , William T. , U, S, Coast Guard,
Dis"'ter, American National Red Cross. (June Christensen , B, T" Chief Chemist , Emergenry
1947. Export Corporation,
Emergency Removal of Obstructions from Turn- Comegys , C. N" Oil Insurance Associarion,

ing Basin, Channel from Galveston Harbor 10 Conlin, C. A" Jr. , Capt" City of Los Angeles
Texas City, Texas, U. S, A,my Sem~e Forces Departmenr of Fire,
Co'ps of Engineers , Galveston DlStnCt, (May Culberson , OIen , Railroad Commission of
9, 1947,
~ire &'.u Davis , H, H" Fire Prevenrion and Engineering
~~9 Bureau of Texas.
fJ~~~~t~'jlze N~,
Davis , R, 0, E. , U, S. Deparrmenr of Agricul-
Dep', of Agriculture, (March , 1945, ture , Ag,icu!rural Research Administration,
Explasives or Other Dangereas Articles on
Fisher , P. L. , ea,bide and Carbon Chemicals
U, S, Dept, of Commerce
Board Vessels,
Bureau of Matine InspeCtion and Navigation, Gross , Harry, City of Los Angeles , Deparrmenr
Fire aad ExPlosion Hazards of Ammoni~m Ni- of Fire,
trate p"tiliz" Bases, Research Bulleun No, Heagy, Kennerh , Corps of Engineers , Galves-
20, Underwrirers ' LaboratO,ies (1940), ton , Texas,
Investigation of Disast" at Texas City, Texas, Holman , J. L. , B,ig, Gen" Office of the Chief of
APril 16, 1947, U, S, Dep', of ,he Inrenor Ordnance , War Department,
Bu,eau of Mines, Holt , L M" United grates Maritime Commis-
Keepers , Hugh V, Address, 5i;, annyal meet- sion,
ing, NFPA, (May 28;1947, Hussey, G, F" Vice Admiral , Bureau of Ord.
Manufacture of Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer nance , Navy Department,
aJ the Type that ExPloded al rr",~s CitY, Huston , W , E" Republic Oil Refining Company,
Texas. U, S, Dept, of tlie Interior, Bureau of James , Garrett B" Sr" NFPA Committee on
Mines, (May , 1947, Hazardous Chemicals and Explosives,