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This Day in History

World History

Wednesday, April 16, 1947. :   600 are killed when Texas City explodes as a result of a fire aboard a freighter in the city's port.

     In the immediate post-war period, Texas City, USA, was a small industrial city with a population of about 18,000. The city was essentially sustained by a thriving chemicals and oil industry. In April 1947, the French freighter 'Grandcamp' was in port at Texas City. Early on the morning of 16 April 1947, a fire broke out on the Grandcamp. Initial attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful as the ship was so hot that the water from the fire hoses was vapourised.

At 9:12am, the fire caught the freighter's stores of ammonium nitrate, a compound used to make dynamite. The resultant detonation, heard over 240km away, caused great destruction and damage to the port, triggering more explosions at nearby chemical plants and flattening houses in the city. 405 dead were identified, 63 more bodies were never identified and about 100 people were classified as missing, and never found.

The fires also ignited a neighbouring vessel, the High Flyer, which contained an additional 1000 tons of ammonium nitrate. On April 17, the High Flyer also exploded, continuing the fires that had raged during the previous day. Throughout Texas City, fires continued burning for up to a week. The Grandcamp explosion remains the most devastating industrial accident in US history.

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