April 18, 2013

"A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in central Texas... more than 160 people wounded and killed an estimated 5 to 15 people..."

"... officials said, likely including firefighters who had been battling the blaze at the factory that triggered the explosion."
Images of the gargantuan fireball that devastated the tiny town of West, 20 miles north of Waco, were particularly jarring, coming just two days after a bombing that killed three people and injured scores of others at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
A different kind of explosion in a different part of the country.

Happening in Texas and involving fertilizer, it makes me think of the 1947 Texas City disaster, which killed "at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department." (I grew up hearing about this disaster, because my parents had lived in the city at the time.)

49 comments:

Oso Negro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

Your parents lived in Texas City. You are lucky to be here. That was a whopper..

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

That is amazing, and amazing that until now I'd never heard of it. Reminds me of the Halifax disaster, of which I had also not been aware until recently.

Oso Negro said...

It is a terrible time for the folks in West. The chemical and refining industry has inherent hazards and sometimes we fail to mitigate them. We have had other incidents in Texas City - the BP explosion in 2005 being the latest big one. It shook my house. Sad for you to grow up in Delaware instead of Texas.

OldGrouchyCranky said...

AA: I worked with a person from 1968 to 76 whose sister was a nurse in that Texas City area. She was in a stairwell when the explosion happened, which was across the bay from her hospital. She survived although not certain how anyone does that without lingering effects. My co-worker said it was quite devastating and could have been much more for his sister since she had gone past a stairwell window overlooking that blast area just before the blast.

Freeman Hunt said...

Pants, same on both counts.

bpm4532 said...

Lots of disasters spread throughout US history - the Eastland Disaster - the SS Eastland, tied up on the Chicago river, loaded with holiday sightseers, rolled over killing 844.

SteveR said...

West Texas not really West Texas home of the famous Crush Texas railroad collision stunt of 1896.

Bob Ellison said...

Neurologists tell that memory of pain is strange. You remember the experience, but not the pain proper. We humans probably are geared toward forgetting bad things.

Bhopal, for example.

AllenS said...

If you ever get to be born, life is filled with danger.

Colonel Angus said...

I certainly hope this is just an accident and isn't a portent of things to come.

rhhardin said...

National victims of the day displace yesterday's victims of the day, unless yesterday's victims can come back strong this morning.

Soap opera women are so fickle.

Shana said...

This won't displace Boston for long, rhhardin, because Boston marathoning is so Stuff White People Like, while this is a flyover country fertilizer plant.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Volcanic eruptions play an important role in Earth's bio-geochemical cycle.

traditionalguy said...

Avoiding huge caches of fertiliser is easier than avoiding quick placed Claymore Anti-personnel devices in crowded places.

A seeming cover up of who did the Boston Marathon attack is starting to irritate people.

Roger J. said...

Misplaced pants comments re Halifax disaster--I agree--I visited Halifax several years ago and was completely unaware of the dimensions of that disaster.

edutcher said...

Timing is funny, but you always risk the paranoia after something like the bombings.

Still, some people are beginning to wonder if they were a co-production

Nonapod said...

April 14 - 20, 2013: The week the world exploded.

Roger J. said...

Misplaced pants comments re Halifax disaster--I agree--I visited Halifax several years ago and was completely unaware of the dimensions of that disaster.

Shana said...

In the Texas City disaster, the SS Grandcamp's 3200 lb anchor landed 1.5 miles away.

chickelit said...

Althouse wrote: I grew up hearing about this disaster, because my parents had lived in the city at the time.

Didn't you once say that your father was Chem Engineer who worked for DuPont?

Ammonium nitrate plants are in Texas because that's where natural gas comes from. The methane bone is connected to the hydrogen bone. The hydrogen bone is connected to the ammonia bone. The ammonia bone is connected to nitric acid bone. The nitric acid bone is connected to the caprolactam bone. The caprolactam bone is connected to the nylon bone.

Dupont also developed ways to make different nylon precursors from things like butadiene which also come from Texas.

edutcher said...

Nonapod said...

April 14 - 20, 2013: The week the world exploded.

Not yet, but we seem to be getting there.

Shana said...

traditionalguy said, "Avoiding huge caches of fertiliser is easier than avoiding quick placed Claymore Anti-personnel devices in crowded places."

I avoid crowds like the plague. I'm more likely to get taken out by the fertilizer. Seriously, though, this was an accident; but if I were a terrorist, it would sure be putting thoughts in my head.

MadisonMan said...

It is a good lesson to learn: Don't gawk at fires.

I would add: Don't chase tsunamis.

Mother Nature is a bitch.

Shana said...

MadisonMan: are you talking about the Texas City incident or the West incident?

Oso Negro said...

People watching the Grandcamp fire were killed in Texas City

MayBee said...

Obama attended memorials for those who died in a coal mining disaster and for those who died in the BP explosion. Two things he wants to highlight as killers.

It will be interesting to see if he attends any memorials for the fertilizer plant victims. It would be interesting to know how he chooses which victims are worthy of his attention.

Aridog said...

AllenS said...

If you ever get to be born, life is filled with danger.

Funny, how that works, eh.

Shana said...

Oso Negro said...
"People watching the Grandcamp fire were killed in Texas City."

Yes, I was aware of that. I was just wondering if I had missed something about the West incident. As far as I have heard so far, the known fatalities are firemen, but fire is mighty attractive to bystanders.

Aridog said...

Shana said...

I avoid crowds like the plague. I'm more likely to get taken out by the fertilizer. Seriously, though, this was an accident; but if I were a terrorist, it would sure be putting thoughts in my head.

First of all, without going in to great detail, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, ATF, et al have all given this chemical plant potential thoughtful prevention and response planning. Just Google "chlorine plant explosion" for a few examples in just one of multiple chemical categories.

Next, most chemical plants are already in densely populated urban areas. Avoiding a crowd only works just so much. You might be surprised what just a single one ton chlorine tank can do damage wise. Scale that up to a chlorine processing facility.

I chose chlorine, among dangerous chemicals, only because growing up in Detroit not so long ago, down-river chlorine plant explosions were rather common. Even in a plants merely using chlorine in tanks, if working in a skilled trade and you heard a loud siren go off it usually meant you had one minute to bail out immediately. You did not get to carry matches, lighters or tobacco products on the job. Sparks still happened, things went ka-boom. Sometimes a block or two were leveled.

I assure you our enemies have noticed this potential a very long time ago. Once upon a time most of the necessary info could be had at magazine stands and libraries...today, just cue up Google and Bing, or Wiki.

Oso Negro said...

Shana - being a Texan and in the process industry, I have been following this closely. There hasn't been a clear explanation of how things unfolded. What you are suggesting is possible. It appears that the blast affected residential buildings as well as the plant.

Shana said...

Well, Aridog, I was sort of being tongue-in-cheek. But, I was sort of wondering out loud, if the more rural-type plants, like the one in West, have gotten the same level of attention as, say, Pasadena?

furious_a said...

Like the Gosnell murder trial, just a local interest story.

Prayers for the people of West. Located at a major choke-point in IH35, SB narrows to two lanes from 3-4 after Hillsboro and with heavy truck traffic. Frequent stop-n-go traffic with miles betw exits. Arrival/movement of rescue/recovery vehicles will be difficult.

Shana said...
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Oso Negro said...

Shana, trust me, you can't just stroll in off the street and go wandering around chemical plants or refineries. Whatever amount of thought the government may have given to it, the folks who run the plants have given a thousand times more. It's honestly the rolling stock that worries me more.

Shana said...

I'm sure your right, Oso Negro. Just one of those musing-out-loud moments. What if there was a way to do it that didn't involved actually entering the plant? The reason this has grabbed my attention, I guess, is that I think rural folks feel more insulated from terror threats. Are we wise to? It is harder to move about without being noticed for sure.

furious_a said...

West is one of TX' Czech settlement towns, most of which cluster midway between San Antonio and Houston on either side of IH10. Nice people in West, host an annual Czech festival around Labor Day.

Shana said...

Kolaches and sausage, what every Czech town in Texas is known for.

Oso Negro said...

Shana, the plants do worst case scenario planning as part of their required emergency response planning. It makes no difference if the plant is in the middle of a cornfield or in downtown Detroit, they still do it. As an example, in 2000, the plant I was managing at the time did a scenario that involved a small plane from the local airport crashing into one of our tanks. We all thought that extreme at the time, a year later, not so much. The plants are pretty well prepared for anything likely to happen. Of course if someone starts shooting RPGs at us it might be a different matter. When there is a big incident, as it appears West will be, there are almost always multiple human failures that contributed to the result. The consequences for the neighborhood differ depending on population density around the plant. Part of what made Bhopal so extreme was that people were living right up to the fence line. Plants started buying out their neighbors and moving them back around then. In Texas City, whole blocks have been cleared around the big plants since the days when Ann's folks lived there.

Oso Negro said...

Oh, and in the event of terrorist attack, it goes without saying that in Texas we will be returning fire as soon as we can get to our pickup trucks in the parking lot.

raf said...

If you ever get to be born, life is filled with danger.

Avoid life's dangers through abortion, the compassionate choice....

Darcy said...

Huh. I've just left a travel briefing where the Texas City explosion was mentioned as well.

Shana said...

"Of course if someone starts shooting RPGs at us it might be a different matter."

Yeah, that's kind of what I had in mind. Of course, at that point we might have bigger problems anyway.

Shana said...

"Oh, and in the event of terrorist attack, it goes without saying that in Texas we will be returning fire as soon as we can get to our pickup trucks in the parking lot."

Another advantage of living in rural Texas. Though even in the metropolitan areas there are plenty.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The reason this has grabbed my attention, I guess, is that I think rural folks feel more insulated from terror threats. Are we wise to? It is harder to move about without being noticed for sure.

Hubby and I were musing on this topic this morning. Being in a VERY rural area, we have no fears of terrorism. We are small potatoes. Terrorist want to strike fear into the hearts of people AND more importantly make a statement that resonates.

Blowing up the Boston Marathon is a statement. Blowing up the local Hay Harvest festival...not so much. Blowing up the Mall of America. A big deal. Blowing up the JC Pennys and Sears stores in the mall in the larger town away frequented by a bunch of redneck housewives looking for underwear on sale.... Hardly a statement.

This doesn't mean we are 'safe', but it seems less likely that, depending where you are in the rural areas, we are more safe. This also doesn't mean that we are not required to or shouldn't be vigilant for those things that COULD be targets, such as power plants or major electrical substations. But...being that we are rural...strangers stand out as unusual and will draw attention to themselves just by being. There are no crowds to blend into.

I also avoid crowds as much as I can and rarely go to the "BIG" cities. Not out of fear. Mainly because I don't like crowds. There are a couple of events this year that we will be going to that do have large crowds. Should we put our lives on hold and cower in our bedrooms? No. That is what they want.


Shana said...

"I also avoid crowds as much as I can and rarely go to the "BIG" cities. Not out of fear. Mainly because I don't like crowds. "

My kids are always wanting me to take them to midnight movie premiers. I'm always like, "Why? Wait a week and you don't have to smell the general public's armpits right up next to you."

annk said...

It also is reminiscent of the schoolhouse explosion in New London that killed 295 teachers and students in 1937.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_London_School_explosion

Æthelflæd said...

Speaking of crowds, I am changing my profile name, since my name with variant spelling, is rather common in these parts.

Larry J said...

Blowing up the Boston Marathon is a statement. Blowing up the local Hay Harvest festival...not so much. Blowing up the Mall of America. A big deal. Blowing up the JC Pennys and Sears stores in the mall in the larger town away frequented by a bunch of redneck housewives looking for underwear on sale.... Hardly a statement.

When you look at the sheer number of soft targets, there's no way to provide complete protection against attack. Small IEDs like those used in Boston are easy to make. Imagine the results if terrorists started hitting crowded places across the country, such as high school football games, shopping centers and fairs. Even if they only killed a few people with each attack, the statement they'd be making is that no one is safe from attack and that would be correct. That would have a bigger impact than a few high profile attacks like in Boston.