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Texas City Disaster of 1947 deadliest industrial accident

This month marks the 100 year anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaists Factory fire, as discussed in a previous post, which is often referred to as the country's worst industrial accident. While the accident was extremely tragic and brought permanent change in workplace safety and union organization, it is not the deadliest. In fact, the deadliest of our country's industrial accidents throughout history occurred in the state of Texas. It is known as the Texas City Disaster.

In 1947, soon after World War II came to an end, shipping was a big business for many coastal cities, especially in Texas. One city that began booming as a result was Texas City, Texas, which is located just north of Galveston, Texas. In mid-April of that year, a ship known as the SS Grandcamp was docked outside the city, holding 16 crates of munitions at the time, which the ship had picked up in Belgium. Before getting to Texas City, the ship stopped again and loaded flammable ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

Somehow a small fire broke out on the ship as it docked in the city. Worse, the fire occurred near some of the fertilizer, which became the recipe for disaster. While fireman worked hard to extinguish the flames, the ship exploded after the ammonium nitrate liquefied. The Grandcamp was blown away to pieces and two other ships in the port also caught fire and exploded. Together, the explosions killed at least 581 people.

In fact, the explosions were so great that warehouses 300 feet away collapsed instantly. The effects were also seen as far away as 40 miles in Houston, where windows were blown out.

The Texas City Disaster is also noteworthy because it instigated the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government. It was brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which had recently been enacted, on behalf of 8,485 people.

As we remember the Triangle Shirtwaists Factory fire this month, let us also remember the Texas City Disaster.

Source: Yahoo! News, "Worst Industrial Accidents in American History," William Browning, 3/20/2011.

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