30 Images of the Destruction from the Texas City Disaster of 1947

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The Texas City disaster was an industrial accident that occurred on April 16, 1947, in the Port of Texas City. It was one of the deadliest industrial accidents in U.S. history.

The disaster started with a fire on board the French-registered SS Grandcamp, which was docked in the port and carrying approximately 2,200 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound predominately used in agriculture as fertilizer but also used as an industrial explosive. The fire ignited the explosive compound and the initial blast set off a chain reaction of fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities.

The initial fire had attracted spectators to the shoreline, who believed they were a safe distance away. The water around the docked ship was boiling from the heat of the fire. At 9:12 a.m. the ammonium nitrate exploded sending a 15-foot wave off the Texas shoreline. The Grandcamp explosion destroyed the Monsanto Chemical Company plant and resulted in the ignition of refineries and chemical tanks on the waterfront. The shock wave was felt as far away as Louisiana. The two-ton anchor was blown 1.6 miles.

The disaster killed at least 518 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department.

A first-aid and disaster relief station at night. Rescue workers, victims, and medical personnel move about the area. Cots are set up in rows. On the far right, a man lying under a blanket is being examined by military personnel. The aid trailer has the numbers “32195” written on a window. Behind the trailer is a large building with some visible window damage. Texas City Library
A damaged fire engine sits amid debris down near a dock warehouse which appears to have only metal framework remaining. Texas City Library
A view of the docks near the port after the Grandcamp’s explosion. Notice all the debris floating in the harbor. Texas City Library
Rescue workers search through debris near the Monsanto Building. Texas City Library
The hull of the Wilson B. Keene lists in the waters of the port after the explosion. Texas City Library
The Longhorn II cargo ship rests on dry land, blown ashore by the explosion of the Grandcamp. Large pieces of twisted ship’s hull are heaped alongside the ship. Texas City Library
This photograph is taken from a raised perspective looking toward the grain elevator and the railroad shed, probably from on top a line of freight train cars at the far right after the second explosion. Texas City Disaster
Searching for survivors near the grain elevator after the second explosion. Texas City Library
One of the last photographs taken of the Texas City Volunteer Fire Department crew before the explosion. Marion Jack Donnis Westmorland with a hard hat on directly behind the Chief. Fire Chief Baumgartner center with hat on. local1259aiff
Firefighters spraying water on Grandcamps deck. local1259aiff
Billows of smoke rising from Texas city as seen from across the bay in Galveston. local1259aiff
A man walks below the 150′ LONGHORN II that was washed ashore by the tidal wave created by the GRANDCAMP exploding. The arrow points toward a destroyed city fire truck twisted together with another vehicle and a large section of the Grandcamp. This is from one of many post-disaster postcards. local1259aiff
This photograph was taken by Johnny Hendrickson, the photographer for the local news, on a tour of the devastated area Thursday. Stacked like child’s toys are vehicles which were near the S. S. Grandcamp when it exploded Wednesday. The sign left standing in the foreground is ironical. The vehicle, top right, was a Texas City ambulance in which a nurse and driver met death. Top automobile on left belonged to Father William Roach, killed when he rushed to the explosion area to administer to the dying. local1259aiff
5 million barrels of petroleum products consumed in flames, valued at approximately $500 million ($5.7 Trillion). local1259aiff
The explosion decimated many sections of Texas City. local1259aiff
Vehicles in a parking lot destroyed by the explosion and falling debris. local1259aiff