Tuesday, May 8, 2012

# 262 - Prepping Topic - Industrial Disasters

My home is in an area where we are literally surrounded by chemical plants. On the days when there is either an explosion or an accident, we have protocol for residents, businesses and schools to "Shelter in Place." We also have a AM radio station in place specifically for people to tune in and listen to the latest about a potential problem which will also give instructions on how to handle the event and will provide updated news bulletins.

Normally, a "Shelter in Place" includes:

1. Closing all doors and windows
2. Make sure all pets are indoors
3. Turning off HVAC systems so that no outside air is pulled inside
4. Stay tuned to news or to the designated radio station

However, we have a list of preparations, just in case there are air contaminants that would need to be addressed further. Usually, it's good to hunker down in a bathroom and have these items:

1. Duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal off door seals, window seals and a/c register vents
2. Extra drinking water and food on hand to last at least three days
3. Radio with batteries

There have been times when we have been forced to be in complete lockdown-shelter-in-place mode due to nasty chemical spills, but particularly because the wind was blowing our direction. That's a key factor for living in this understand how wind direction might impact your available seconds to get yourself into the immediate confines of a better protected zone.

Of course, we live so freakin close to the chemical plants, that Sheltering in Place can sometimes be impossible. Plants are clearly visible from all sides of our house. But, Houston is the hub of the oil industry, so this is what we've lived with, for most of my life. Those stinking smells that hover in the air, well, my sister and I were just talking the other day about how we were raised to believe that those are "the smell of money."

And, it's true.

However, chemicals are dangerous substances and all of this prepping talk nationwide is sometimes a bit humorous to me because this is how we've lived our entire lives...PREPPED FOR DISASTER.

Actually, we live very close to Texas City. The largest and deadliest industrialized accident throughout American history happened in Texas City, on April 16th in 1947, at the loading docks. The horrific accident killed near 600 people and injured over 5,000 more. Just so you know, we have loading docks for chemical substances just down the road from us...this entire area is heavily industrialized.

Surrounded by fascinating incidents, this tragedy began with a fire aboard the Grandcamp which was carrying small arms ammunition, machinery, ammonium nitrate and bales of twine on the deck. To complicate matters, the docks had other ships in harbor, such as the SS High Flyer, which was about 600 feet away from the SS Grandcamp. Aboard the SS High Flyer was also more ammonium nitrate that was supposed to be on its way to farmers in Europe, as fertilizer. And the SS High Flyer was also carrying sulfur. Warehouses at the dock also housed these substances.

As for this ammonium nitrate that was used as fertilizer and partly in high explosives, it was packaged in paper sacks. A big hint that trouble was looming on this day had been when the longshoremen noted that the bags were warm to the touch, BEFORE loading them onto the ship.

Around 8am, smoke was seen coming from the cargo hold of the Grandcamp as it still remained moored at the dock in Texas City. Workers tried for an hour to put out bits of fire, but each time the fire returned. In attempt to save the cargo, the captain had his men steam the cargo hold, which is a firefighting method specifically designed to save cargo from being destroyed by dousing waters. The growing fire is now enough to attract people who are passing by the docks and a crowd is building. Standing a good distance from the ships, the spectators believed they were at a safe distance to have a front row seat to the hurried activities of those trying to put out the growing fire. It was noted that the cargo hold must have been so hot that the waters around the docked ship were boiling from the heat and water that splashed onto the hull of the ship turned to steam.

The heat of the fire was creating more devastation that would soon be of historical note because the ship itself began to heave and ho as the cargo hold and the deck bulged from the pressure of the steam increasing inside until the ammonium nitrate reacted as it is designed to exploded, which cause the entire vessel to become a bomb. It blew up.

The blast created a 15 foot wave, leveled nearly 1,000 buildings on land, resulted in the ignition of refineries and chemical tanks on the waterfront, the falling bales of flaming twine created more destruction and the most amazing event occurred in the midst of the disaster...the Grandcamp's anchor flew across the city during the blast.


Airplanes that had been circling overhead, watching events unfurl, were finding themselves caught in the blast with an impact so severe as the shear off the wings.

Many spectators were reduced to ash while others mercifully escaped the middle of death without harm.


Fifteen hours after the Grandcamp blew up, the SS High Flyer was the next to succumb to fire mixed with hazardous materials and its explosion destroyed the SS Wilson B. Keene that was docked nearby. Like the Grandcamp with the two-ton anchor flying 1.62 miles across the city to create a huge landing crater, the SS High Flyer's propellers were blown off and found about a mile inland. Both the anchor from the Grandcamp and the propellers from the SS High Sky are part of a memorial park in Texas City. A site we see very often is the other anchor from the Grandcamp, the main five-ton anchor that had hurled 1/2 miles inland to the entrance to the Texas City Dike is now part of their entrance.

At the end of the horror filled event, there were more than 500 homes destroyed, 2,000 homeless, and if your home was destroyed, it was likely that your car was also in trouble...over 1,100 vehicles were damaged, 362 freight cars destroyed and the city was in chaos as an oily mist blanketed every surface of the city.


Texas City had 28 firefighters at the time, only one survived because he was the coordinator. Other firefighters from other departments died. Assistance from other firefighting departments came from as far away as Los Angeles.


On this day, we have "Shelter in Place" mostly because of this Texas City disaster. After this tragedy, a system of response to emergency was put into place. Industry changed our lives and being prepared for disasters, small or large, is our goal.

Living in an area full of plants that are producing hazardous chemicals and toxic products will force your awareness to be heightened.

As for explosions, around 1989 there was an explosion directly next door to the plant where my father was a supervisor and where my husband's brother worked together. The explosion sent my dad to his knees, blew out windows to their plant and created widespread destruction, but the Shell plant next door that had exploded caused the death of about 15 people. Many of them known to our family and to our community.

Throughout the history of our industrialized area, there have been many explosions and dangerous chemical releases...knowing how to quickly react in such a situation might save your life and the life of those around you. Having a "Shelter in Place" protocol  might be a good idea, no matter where you live. You never know when you might need to use it.

Prepping? I know a little something about it, but not Doomsday level. Out here, it's called..."Surviving the immediate disaster" kind of prepping. That's the real circumstances of what we live with...not preparing for zombies or for an atomic bomb, just a regular old explosion or chemicals floating our way that will sear our lungs.

Yes, I prep.


Rae said...

I don't blame you for wanting to move. That post gave me the heebie jeebies... Horrifying.

LindaG said...

You're not prepping for zombies? ;o)

How are your chicks doing? Hope you are well, Lana. ♥