History

Disasters in Texas History You May Not be Familiar With

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Though Texas history has had its ups and downs, some of the tragedies tend to get overlooked in history class. It’s not because teachers are remiss in educating students about bad times in the state’s history, but these events did not necessarily strike deeply in the memories of everyone in the state, or they occurred too recently to make it into the history books. Learning about these Texas history disasters will ensure that the people whose lives were irrevocably changed will not be forgotten.

1. Texas City Disaster

Texas history disasters The remnants of one of the ships from the Texas City disaster three days after the explosion.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Some people are still around who recall when the Texas City disaster occurred. In 1947, a pair of ships docked in Texas City exploded, the second explosion taking place 15 hours after the first. At the time, America stocked ships full of supplies to send to Europe to help the nations there rebuild after the devastating effects of World War II. Part of that recovery required the shipment of fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) to be used either for growing crops or to create explosives. Both ships, the Grandcamp and the High Flyer had fertilizer in their cargo holds, but the Grandcamp would be the one to catch fire.

The local fire department, either not knowing the contents of the ship or understanding the implications, tried to steam the fire out by sealing the cargo hold and pumping steam inside to deprive the fire of oxygen while protecting the rest of the cargo on board. This failed, though, because ammonium nitrate reacted with the water in the steam to create its own source of oxygen (being nitrogen oxide.) Eventually, the heat and pressure from the sealed cargo hold caused this ship to explode around 9:12 a.m., killing 567 people, including the crew aboard the ship, several spectators, and almost all the Texas City volunteer firefighters. The shock wave from the explosion rippled through the atmosphere, destroying 1,000 buildings on land and causing people as far away as Louisiana to feel it and people in Galveston to be knocked to their knees.

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