April 16, 1947 – Ammonium Nitrate Explosion, Texas City, TX
The Texas City disaster was an industrial accident that occurred April 16, 1947, in the Port of Texas City. It generally considered the worst industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the port), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (approximately 2,100 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate detonated, with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department; 27 of the 28 members of Texas City’s volunteer fire department and 3 members of the Texas City Heights Volunteer Fire Department who were on the docks near the burning ship were killed.
One firefighter, Fred Dowdy, who had not responded to the initial call, coordinated other firefighters arriving from communities up to 60 miles (100 km) away. Eventually 200 firefighters arrived, from as far away as Los Angeles. Fires resulting from the cataclysmic events were still burning a week after the disaster, and the process of body recovery took nearly a month. All four fire engines of Texas City were twisted and burned hulks. It is said that one positive result of the Texas City disaster was widespread disaster response planning to help organize plant, local, and regional responses to emergencies.
Hundreds of lawsuits were filed as a result of the disaster. The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.