Fertilizer Plant Explosion Texas: The Explosion That Turned West into a Ghost Town
Facts about the Chemical Plant Explosion in West, Texas
An explosion in Texas at the West Fertilizer plant near the town of West about 60 miles north of Waco occurred around 7:50 p.m. local time on April 17, 2013. One of the anhydrous ammonia tanks at the plant caught fire and exploded, after which the flames spread to other buildings, including a high school and a nursing home near the plant. The blast damaged buildings a considerable distance away from the plant. Initially, it was reported that two children were trapped under the rubble in the destroyed school, but later it was specified that the children were trapped in an apartment house, damaged in the explosion. Fortunately, the children were rescued.The rescue operation at the scene was hampered by the possibility of another explosion at the site. The city of West was completely evacuated, so the city became an abandoned city in one day. Also, everyone living within a three to five-mile radius of the plant was ordered to leave their homes.
The town after the West Texas fertilizer plants explosion itself looked like a war zone. Rescue teams who arrived on the scene initially occupied the soccer field of the local school. More than two dozen ambulance crews were at work here. Authorities imposed a no-fly zone over the city to prevent firefighters and medical helicopters from flying over. At least 12 helicopters are being used to transport the wounded to hospitals. Ambulance crews from all the surrounding towns were scrambled to the scene of the tragedy. The casualty triage center located at the stadium was later decided to move after firefighters reported the danger of another ammonia tanker exploding. But fortunately, rescue workers were able to defuse and prevent the possibility of a second explosion.
Earthquake Caused by West Texas Explosion
An explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, triggered a 2.1 magnitude earthquake, the U.S. Geological Survey said. A ban on flights below one kilometer was imposed over the area. The blast wave caused by the West fertilizer explosion was felt at a distance of about more than 50 miles from the West city. Witnesses said it felt like an atomic bomb had exploded. They observed a huge mushroom-shaped cloud.
These circumstances were remarkably reminiscent of the disaster that the American city of Texas City experienced in 1947. Like the 2013 story, it involved a massive explosion in Texas, ammonium nitrate, and loss of life.
Texas City in the mid-1940s was one of the chemical and petrochemical centers of the southern United States. The local port was extremely busy. Shipment of ships was in continuous operation. Around the port were several large plants, warehouses, and terminals. They concentrated oil and its products, raw materials for chemical production, and finished products. Surprisingly, the people of Texas City took this neighborhood rather calmly. Citizens were confident that nothing extraordinary could happen to them.
On April 12, 1947, the French-flagged ship Grandcamp sailed into the port for loading. Captain Charles de Guibon ordered the cargo – ammonium nitrate packed in 100-pound paper bags – to fill the holds. Ammonium nitrate (which caused plant explosion in West, Texas) is a classic dual-use substance. It can act as both a fertilizer and an explosive component.
It was loaded for several days, during which time the port workers took breaks next to the sacks. Around 8 o’clock in the morning, the crew noticed smoke coming from the hold. They started to extinguish the fire with the help of the seamen and the city fire brigade, which had arrived on a signal. But just a few minutes later the hatch covers were torn off and the Grandcamp burst into flames. The crew abandoned the ship, and only Charles de Guibon remained on board.
At 9:12 a.m. local time on April 16, 1947, there was a Texas city-ship explosion. Its power was later estimated at 2,700 tons of TNT.
The Grandcamp explosion was so strong that the water instantly evaporated at the place where the ship was moored. The shock wave knocked out two airplanes, which were in the air in the area of the “big boom”. According to the official data, 581 people became victims of the Texas City disaster in 1947, more than 5000 were wounded and 113 were missing. In 2021 prices, the total damage from the disaster was more than half a billion dollars. The port and the city itself were rebuilt fairly quickly since Texas City was extremely important for industry and transportation.
The Senate Commission of Inquiry into the Texas City disaster reached the following conclusions: first, ammonium nitrate packaging rules had been violated. Second, safety procedures were flagrantly violated, with workers smoking right next to bags of nitrate. Third, neither the Port Authority of Texas City nor the captain of the ship knew that ammonium nitrate was explosive. Fourth, the city’s fire department was not familiar with the rules for extinguishing a hazardous substance such as ammonium nitrate.
The similarities between this explosion and the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas in 2013 are very obvious, namely human negligence.
Stay tuned for more interesting events from history! Read about the explosion in Beirut in 2020 that destroyed half the city in the next articles!