A look at America's deadliest industrial accidents

A parking lot a quarter of a mile away from the Texas City explosion. (Source: University of Houston Digital Library/Wikicommons)
A parking lot a quarter of a mile away from the Texas City explosion. (Source: University of Houston Digital Library/Wikicommons)

(RNN) - The explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant happened almost 66 years to the date after the deadliest industrial accident in American history.

Only 240 miles away from West, TX, where the plant caught fire and blew up, a ship docked in Texas City and filled with ammonium nitrate fertilizer caught fire.

On April 17, 1947, as locals gathered around the docks to watch firemen fight the fire, the ship, dubbed the S.S. Grandcamp and loaded with the combustible cargo, blew up. The blast created a 15-foot tidal wave that flooded the area.

Area buildings were crushed. The blast registered on a seismograph in Denver, hundreds of miles away.

Another barge was blown out of the water by the explosion, landing 100 feet away on shore.

The explosion of the Grandcamp broke a third ship, the Highflyer, from its moorings. The Highflyer, also carrying fertilizer, eventually drifted close enough to the Grandcamp that it too ignited and eventually blew up.

In all, 581 people died.

Port Chicago Explosion - 1944

In full-fledged war in the Pacific, the Navy expanded its munitions facilities to Port Chicago, 30 miles north of San Francisco.

Port Chicago became an around-the-clock facility where crews loaded ships with bullets, bombs and explosives.

Crews were often poorly trained and speed was a priority.

As crews were loading two ships, the S.S. Quinault Victory and the S.S. E. A. Bryan, with explosives and ammunition, rails cars with 400 tons of explosives were parked nearby.

Around 10:18 p.m., a series of explosions leveled the pier, killed 320 soldiers and injured 390. Two-thirds of the dead were black enlisted soldiers in the Navy.

Exactly what triggered the explosions is still unknown. The explosion led to the safer procedures being put in place for loading ammunition.

Triangle Shirtwaste Factory Fire - 1911

In one perfect storm of unsafe working conditions, negligent management, overcrowding and insufficient equipment by the local fire department, 146 people died in a span of 20 minutes.

The Triangle Shirtwaste Factory in New York produced tailored blouses and was by all accounts a sweatshop. Most of the employees were immigrants, many who were teenagers working in crowded spaces for 12 hours a day for little pay.

Exit doors were often locked to prevent workers from sneaking out on break. Other exits were often blocked by scrap fabric. The building only had two true fire escapes.

Ladders from the fire department were too short and hoses too weak to reach the upper floors. Fire nets ripped.

Some workers leaped to their deaths. Others burned inside a building that was branded as fireproof.

Pemberton Mill Collapse - 1860

Hundreds of workers at the Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, MA were laboring away at their jobs when the factory around them suddenly crumbled and collapsed.

While exact totals aren't known, anywhere from 115 to 169 people died.

An article published in the London Times in 1860 read, "The fabric, it appears, was unsound; it was never of sufficient strength to support the weight designed for it, and it  accordingly fell in."

Volunteers rushed to pull victims trapped beneath the pile of debris before a lantern broke and set fire to the rubble.

Many who survived the initial collapse died in the fire. 

Grover Shoe Factory Collapse - 1905

When a boiler exploded at the Grover Shoe Factory, it shot up through three floors, breaking through the roof of the factory. A New York Times article from 1905 says the boiler "smashed through a dwelling house fifty feet away and pierced another dwelling further on, demolishing it. Here its course was stopped."

Its structure compromised, the building began to collapse, floors crashing down on one another.

The boiler explosion caused a fire that took the lives of those pinned beneath the wreckage.

The explosion, collapse and fire killed 53 people.

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