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Ezenwa Udoha's picture

April, 1947, remains a day that can never be forgotten easily in the history of
the United States. When a French cargo (SS Grand camp) that was loaded with
2300 tons of Ammonium Nitrate and ammunition exploded shortly after the engine
room was gut by fire.

explosion climaxed and 14 hours later exploded the second ship (SS High Flyer, heavily loaded with
Ammonium Nitrate) that was anchored adjacent the SS Grand Camp. The chain
explosions coupled with super saturation of the environment with flammable vapour destroyed the nearby Monsanto Chemical plant and refineries.

disaster is arguably the worst accident in American history and marked a
turning point in American safety regulation.

 Texas disaster April 16-17, 1947 Fire Prevention and Engineering Bureau of Texas Dallas, Joint report of the Texas and the National Board of Fire Underwriters, N.Y.


Alabi Ochu Abdulraheem's picture

In safety management, the superior of an organisation should not always enforce orders on his subordinates but learn to listen to different views that may arise from them because he may be profit driven and neglect the safety regulations guiding his operations. Such is the case of the texas city fire disaster of 1947. Had captain Charles de Guillebon listened to some of his subordinates who called for a hose line to be extinguish the fire, which surely would destroy his precious cargo, surely that incident would not have escalated to the level it actually did. His selfish orders that the fire should be sprayed with hot water caused the ammonium nitrate to become more volatile and attained an explosive  threshold of 850 degrees Fahrenheit and denoted in a massive explosion.
REG NO:  51231595

Alabi Ochu Abdulraheem's picture

The competence of an engineer is a relevant element in improving the management of safety. Outside the awareness of safety regulations that governs design, installations and general engineering practices, an engineer should be vast in his career field and also have a general knowledge of other fields. This was the case in the Texas city fire accident of 1947 where an engineer of a nearby chemical plant was called by W. H. Swede Sandberg, the vice president of the Texas city terminal railway company, asking him about the danger of burning ammonium nitrate shortly before the incident. The answer given by the engineer, that he should not worry because ammonium nitrate won’t explode without a detonator, was a wrong one showing the incompetence of the engineer on his field of study. Probably a right answer at that point might just be enough to save the situation.
REG NO:  51231595

Frixos Karletides's picture

Texas City was a seaport
and included a large industrial complex of warehouses, chemical plants and
refineries. After World War II, the port used from transport ship storage
purposes. On April 1947, three World War ships were in port. One of these ships
contained 2,300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Early in the morning a
fire was recorded at this ship. One version utters that the ignition source was
a cigarette. With a continuous burning of ammonium nitrate, a massive explosion
took place. The explosion had a result of 583 people to be killed, thousands to
be injured and hundreds of millions pounds property damages. After this
accident a standard legislation for storage of ammonium nitrate was developed.
The experience gained from this accident is based on knowledge of workplace
hazards and hazardous materials, correct procedures for using hazardous
materials and developing emergency plans for the whole community if this type
of accident occurs again.  

Frixos Karletides

Harrison Oluwaseyi's picture


The early hours of the 16th of
April, 1947 the city of Texas woke up to a disaster. This event has been called
the worst industrial disaster caused by man in the history of America. The
cause of this event has not been attributed or narrowed to any particular
situation but several reports have stated that idle crew members often smoked cigarettes
on board during off hours. 

Order of Events:

Before 8am: Routine loading of
the liberty Vessel S.S. Grand-camp operated by Compagnie Generale Atlantique
with approximately 2,300tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Before this
loading, the vessel contained other materials and substances like 1400tons and
880tons in different holds, boxes of ammunition, oil well equipment, binder
twine etc

8:15am - 9am: The first trace of
smoke was noticed in the lower hold 4. The crew tried to handle this situation
by using drinking water and fire extinguishers to put it out but there attempts
failed                and every person in
the holds were order out but the smoke steadily increased.

9:12am - 1:10am: The first
explosion occurred and over 400 lives were lost. Frequent fires followed this explosion (the
ethylene purification, polstyrene building, alkylation unit, ground fires etc).
The second explosion occurred at 1:10am by the High flyer from this explosion
just one life was lost and frequent fires followed this explosion also.

During the course of these events
selected people were carrying out rescue and search operations for the wounded
and dead. This event was said to have accumulated losses in amounts of about
sixty-seven million dollars ($67,000,000) in assets and basic necessities
damage. The amount of lives lost is summed up to about 468 persons, with 100
still missing (1 July, 1947) and about 3000 with severe injuries.




‘The Texas City Disaster: A staff Report’

‘The Texas City disaster’, National Hazardous
Material Fusion Center.


Ezenwa Udoha's picture


Oluwatosin A. Oyebade's picture

The Texas Fire Disaster that occurred 65 years ago had alot of shortcomings and could have been averted if more precautions had been taken. If the disaster were to occur today, the following safety measures would be put in place:

  • Proper labelling of the containers that held the ammonium nitrate would have been done.
  • The storage of ammonium nitrate to be shipped either by railroad or ship would have received the adequate attention required in the port
  •  Decrees would have been put in place to ensure loading of the  hazardous substance with other combustible materials is in accordance with regulations for smokeless powder storage
  • Interstate commerce commission regulations which require colourings in the labelling of ammonium nitrate to denote danger when shipped in large quantities would have been enforced
  • Prohibition of smoking and use of open lights on docks or in piers when handling combustible cargos would be enforced.
  • Proper education in form of HSE-awareness training of concerned persons would have been done before boarding the ship to enlighten them on the do's and dont's aboard the ship.
  • The port facility would have a complete disaster plan such as fire departments, hospitals and other relief agencies to reduce the extent of the burn as well as provide immediate treatment to victims of burn.


Oluwatosin Oyebade

Ezenwa Udoha's picture


Thomas Ighodalo's picture

"Everything we hear is an opinion not a fact"


I would
like to discuss indepth on the "Lack of adequate knowledge on the harmful
effect of Ammonium Nitrate and other reactive materials on board"

 A brief
history of S.S GrandCamp shows that it was a cargo ship initially laden with with
16 cases of small arms ammunition, 59000 bales of sisal binder twine, 380 bales
of cotton, 9334 bags of shelled peanuts and some oil field, refrigeration and
farm machinery and by the morning of April 16, 1947, No. 2 hold had 1420 tons
of ammonium nitrate while No. 4 had 880 tons.

the ship was laden with materials of different hazardous classification which
creates room for error in judgment when handling these materials, a worker used
to handling shelled peanuts would be oblivious of the dangers posed by the same
handling of Ammonium Nitrate, the belief that warning signs alone will serve as
a deterrent was definitely a recipe for failure (as proven by the lack of
knowledge even from the captain aboard the vessel). This brings to bear the
need of a safety officer well versed with the materials being handled (prior to
loading the vessel )to ensure that safety briefings/training are held with crew
members on the dangers of the packages to be loaded aboard each vessel and the necessary
mitigating action to take.


1.1.  1.


Kobina Gyan Budu's picture

This disaster happened as a result of safety breaches that could be placed on lack of knowledge.
It appears the crew had no knowledge of what they were transporting and they were ignorant of
the devastating effect of Ammonium Nitrate (NH4NO3).
NH4NO3 is an explosive material when it gets into contact with fuel. NH4NO3 fire is not fought in
the industry. Once the fire starts, there has to be evacuation because no one can tell when the
rising temperature and pressure levels within the burning pile will be sufficient to set off
detonation/explosion. In transporting it, NH4NO3 should not be stocked with any other product
as the risk is increased by doing so.
If the crew knew all these, surely the captain would not have ordered for “Steam Holding” as the
steam was only going to add more heat to the already burning NH4NO3. One of the causes of the
April 16, 1947 Texas city fire disaster could be human failures via lack of education of the very
crew that was handling the product.

Andreas Kokkinos's picture

On 16 of April, 1947 the worst industrial disaster in the
United States let its mark in the history. This event took place in Texas City,
Texas when onboard a French military vessel a fire erupted between the cargo
area and the ship’s jull which later detonated around 2,300 tons of ammonium
nitrate (usually is used in agriculture and in explosives). [1] As a result a
series of fires and massive explosions devastated not only the city but the
whole area as well, leaving behind around 581 people killed. [2]

From the magnitude of the blast 1,000 building were leveled
and the shock wave was notable in both Houston, Texas and 100 miles away in the
state of Louisiana. Additionally, over 5,000 people were injured and over 500
homes were destroyed which result to leaving behind more than 2,000 residents
homeless. [2]

 The French vessel
explosion destroyed in sequence the Monsanto Chemical Company plant which in
result detonated the refineries and the chemical tanks causing further
destruction and more fatalities. Totally, 28 firefighters were killed in this
incident and many of them lost their life near the Monsanto Chemical plant. There
is an argument that hundreds of people more were killed but remained uncounted
such as travelers, fishermen and other pedestrians which had the luck to be
nearby. [1,2]




Andreas Kokkinos

MSc Oil and Gas Engineering

Kobina Gyan Budu's picture

In looking at this disaster and ways by which the extent of the undesired consequences could
have been reduced, these few questions are worth thinking through.
•    What should the captain have done?
•    What should the crew have done?
•    What should adjacent ship, High Flyer have done?
•    What should the spectators have done?
•    What should the firefighters have done?

Knowing the right thing to have done at the right time could have reduced the end results
especially the fatalities.

Ammonium Nitrate is an oxidizer (oxygen provider). For fire triangle to be complete, there have
to be fuel, oxygen and heat. With Ammonium Nitrate providing the oxygen, heat coming from the
engine area, there had to be fuel somewhere to start the fire on the ship, Grandcamp. Even
though reports do not clearly state, it is believed that there was fuel leakage from the ship,
leading to the start of the fire.

FELIXMAIYO's picture

Texas fire disaster is one of the deadliest in the US history. There are several things that should have been done to avert the worst from happening. Little could be done on saving the vessel. As my colleagues have mentioned that the vessel was carrying approximately 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate and it’s an explosive substance. They have discussed how flammable the substance is, it just needs a combination of fuel (ammonium nitrate), oxygen) and the heat which was sourced from the engine running.
Kobina Gyan Budu has asked some questions and the simple answer to all these questions was EVACUATION and keeping the spectators away from the place. Little could be done in saving the first vessel but the second vessel could have been saved had it been moved further from the burning vessel. From reports from the incident show that the second vessel contained 961 tons of ammonium nitrate and sulphur should have learnt from the first vessel. Extinguishing of the fire was almost impossible. Nothing could be done to save the first vessel.


Kobina Gyan Budu's picture

I will throw some light on the good points Felix has made.
Ammonium Nitrate in itself will not burn unless it comes into contact with heat and fuel. With
fuel alone, Ammonium Nitrate becomes explosives known as Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil (ANFO).
All we need is very little fuel (5.7%) in 94.3% Ammonium Nitrate by weight to make explosives.
A burning ANFO is just an explosive gathering detonation pressure to set itself up.
Once ANFO starts burning, the AN decomposes to release more oxygen to support the burning front.
This process is so rapid (speed from 3,200 to 4,500 m/s) that it is humanly impossible to stop
the explosive from going off once started. If the crew had adequate knowledge about all these,
they would not have bothered to fight the fire but to evacuate immediately. That is why safety
requires adequate knowledge of any substance one is exposed to in the work environment.

Omololu Oyebola's picture

On board the French vessel SS GrandCamp(of Liberty type) on April 16, 1947 was midmorning fire. This was the deadliest industrial accident recorded by the U.S. (Blocker, 1951). The  ship  had  been  Ioading  ammonium 

nitrate  fertiIizer  for  several days and an estimated 2,300 tons had aIready been pIaced aboard in IOO pound six-pIy  paper  bags.The fire had a ripple effect majorly on a Highflyer, which was a few miles away from the site of the accident, two airplanes hoovering around the were also blown apart by shrapnels that flew about, also on spectators and children who crowded the quayside to watch the action.The loss of property excluding marine (which was not ascertainable) is estimated to be $35,000,000 to $40,000,000(National Board of Fire Underwriters)

From the report of the incidence, during stevedoring operation of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a carpenter smell a smoke and found that a few bags of ferilizer were on fire, efforts to put out the fire seem futile, he called for a hose and the captain of the ship was more interested about the money invested in the fertilizer up to the tune of $500,blast of the fire killed about 600 and left many injured. My question is, was the $500 fertilizer worth the life of innocent souls? Property loss in the tune of millions? Damage to the companys reputation?

Lesson Learnt from this tragic incidence 

is that no matter the monetary value as stake, safety should be first, No other job should be more important than the safety of lifes and properties.


[1] Virginia Blocker, THE  TEXAS  CITY  DISASTER, 1948.



Abiaziem Davidson's picture


Texas City Disaster which occurred on April12, 1947 in Port of Texas City was one of the industrial disasters with the highest death toll in American history. The disaster occurred on French Liberty registered ship “Grandcamp” which docked in the port of Texas city as they prepare to load 2300tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer which already has 880tons of this fertilizer, small tools, equipments and small ammunition onboard already. Fire was noticed on board and all effort to put off the fire was to no avail, the ensuing chain reaction of fires with the ammonium nitrate and explosions. This explosion ignited the ammonium nitrate in the nearby cargo ship call High Flyer causing it to explode and causing more devastation to the Texas City. This disaster recorded a death toll of 8,485 fatalities. 

The physical / technical cause of this disaster was the wrong decision made by the captain of the ship, he instructed his fire fighter crew to suppress the flames by having the hatches battened and covered with tarpaulins, the ventilators closed and the steam system turned on against using water to fight the fire or calling in fire fighting department for help. He also ignored the safety standard option of tugging the ship to a distance far from the harbour. 

The underlying cause of the disaster was on the issue of safety instruction on loading of chemicals in Texas City port not being followed. The port does not allow chemical loading and off-loading because it does not have the required fire fighting equipments for any major fire disaster. Wrong decision making contributed so much in the disaster, we should understand that this disaster happened when safety was not taken serious and decision making in all aspect of the work was solely on the captain to make and one man’s wrong decision could cause severe fatalities.

The disaster resulted to severe fatalities because of the port location; the port is located in an industrial base area that accommodates chemical industries, refineries, domestic or small scale industries and a community. Secondly, before the explosion the fire attracted a crowd of spectators along the shoreline who believed they were at a safe distance away. The disaster destroyed more than 500 homes, Texas City Port was destroyed, over 1,100 vehicles were and 362 freight cars were destroyed and property worth more than $1.04 billion was severely damaged.

Texas disaster witness hundreds of lawsuit from industries and individuals. Though the United State refused to accept responsibility for the cause of the disaster but the sum of $17 million was granted as relief to the affected victims of the disaster. The lawsuit witnessed help in safety and regulatory body reformation in Texas City.    



William J. Wilson's picture

One valuable tool that we have which facilitates our
understanding of the contributing factors to incidents like the “Texas City
Disaster April 16, 1947” is the psychologist James Reason’s analogy of
organisational failure using a ‘Swiss cheese model’.

Each “slice” of cheese represents an organisational protective
barrier but if the holes line up there is a brief window of opportunity for an
error to manifest and in the case of Texas City disaster, 1947 it resulted in
additional fatalities.  Applying such a tool to the case of the Texas
City Disaster April 16, 1947, with special regard to the actions and decisions
made by key stakeholders that resulted in additional fatalities we can clearly
see where the fault lies.

 Cheese Slices and
organisation protective barrier:

1: Training, it appears that there was a large gap in knowledge of the
cargo that was being loaded with regards to its combustibility and how to
reduce the fire hazard.  It was not know
how the fire started but it could have been someone smoking – this is a clear
sign of a lack of training and knowledge (even given the time era in which the
incident occurred).  Lack of knowledge
creates the hole in the cheese creating the opportunity for error to escalate.

2: Fire Fight
The fire was discovered and the call for a fire
hose was ignored since “someone” gave the orders not to use water due to a
concern about damage to the cargo.  This
slice was the fire fighting protection available to the crew but they were not
allowed to use it allowing the error opportunity to develop through the hole to
slice 3.

3: Clearing the
dock of all ships
, the third slice of protection should have been
a clear exit for any ships still berthed whilst a fire raged aboard another
ship in the dock.  It is my opinion the
entanglement of the lines between S.S. HIGH FLYER and S.S. WILSON B. KEENE prevented
the safe exit of the S.S. HIGH FLYER causing the second explosion to destroy
many more facilities on the dock side and taking more lives too.

4: Industrial
accident Response plan
, Given the
situation a good solid plan for the emergency services to follow would have
ensured that emergency teams stopped sufficiently far enough away from any danger
and that any exposure to risk was managed. 
There was no Response plan and it was the lack of this protective
barrier which resulted in the most deaths.

I have mentioned a few things here which appear obvious but the
era, in which this disaster occurred, there were many unknowns about industrial
health and safety.  Unfortunately society
has always needed disasters like this to occur in order for attitude changes towards
safety issues.  Hindsight is always
valuable but managing the organisational protective barriers represented in the
Swiss cheese slices could prevent many more incidents and save lives in the


William Wilson

MSc Subsea Engineering (DL)

Soseleye F. Ideriah's picture

Accidents that have already occurred need to be analysed in order to ensure that the events that led to disaster are not repeated. Various lessons were learnt from the Texas City fire and I have summarised some of the recommendations below. 

It is important to clearly label containers with hazardous substances. Also, people handling ammonium nitrate should be clearly informed of the hazardous nature of the substance as well as proper methods of storing and handling it. The safety recommendations considering storage and handling of ammonium nitrate [1] should be strictly adhered to (please note that reference 1 lists all the recommendations with regard to handling and storage of ammonium nitrate). 

In addition, any ship with hazardous material such as ammonium nitrate as cargo entering a port must notify the port facility who in turn should notify the chief of the fire department immediately. Port facilities storing ammonium nitrate must also notify the chief of the fire department of the location and amount of the commodity.



Kyeyune Joseph's picture

The Texas City fire disaster is considered as one of the most disastrous industrial accidents in US. The centrepiece of this disaster was the explosion of ammonium nitrate fertilisers on-board two liberty ships (Grandcamp and SS High Flyer) at the Texas City dock[1].  This had been packaged in paper bags stored at high temperatures that increased its chemical reactivity. After being loaded on the cargo ship Grandcamp, smoke was seen coming from the ship and efforts to put it out started. Eventually the crew resorted to using steam to fight the small fire that had started. This all failed as the ammonium nitrate soon reached its explosion threshold thereby detonating blowing up the ship. Consequences were far reaching as more than 581 people lost lives, over 5000 injured, property destroyed(houses, cars etc.). Businesses such as refineries and chemical plants were seriously damaged and financial implication of the disaster was valued not less than $500m in money of 1947 [1]. A close analysis of the events leading to the disaster reveals the following conclusions:

The event originated from complacency about hazardous materials and fueled by close proximity of petrochemical facilities and other chemical plants to the dock. This meant that in case of any explosion, there were very high chances that the refinery and chemical industries would be affected thereby escalating the consequences. Indeed it was the case.

Absence of preparation for a serious industrial emergency is another key issue in this incident. This is confirmed by the fact that the second explosion of ammonium nitrate from SS High Flyer took place almost 16 hours after the first explosion! In simple terms, the Port authorities despite allowing such flammable cargo to be stored and loaded on ships at their port, never had any safety case (risk identification, assessment and reduction measures) prepared for such activities.

With highly flammable petrochemical products in close proximity to the port, safety standards should have been really high. Additionally, the arrival of ammonium nitrate shipments in 1945 should have presented the Port authority with an opportunity to review and evaluate their safety standards. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case thus the disaster and the consequences highlighted above.   

The Texas City disaster, 1947. By Hugh W. Stephens (Google eBook), available at University of Texas Press. 

Giorgos Hadjieleftheriou's picture



Texas City disaster was the
deadliest industrial accident that happened in the US since 1947. Workers of a
ship called Grand camp were loading hundreds of tones of ammonium. Approximately
2300 tons were already loaded and several more were to be loaded as well. As reported
there were partly safety precautions at present. While workers were loading one
of them smelled smoke. Smoke was spreading and the fire continued to grow. Neither
fire extinguishers nor fire hose has done a significant difference. Water wasn’t
flowing throw the hose. Decisions were taken by the foreman and the superintended
of stevedores for evacuation and to take out the fire but the captain decided
to take different precautions. He didn’t want the fire to get off with water
due to protect the cargo and he ordered to suppress the fire by having battered
and covered the tarpaulins, close the ventilations and leave the steam system
closed. Moments after, the growing pressure from compressed steam blew off the
hatch covers. Curios people was arriving at the scene unaware of what will come
up next and then the disaster. While fire was spreading everywhere on the ship,
a big explosion killed everyone inside the ship and injured lots of people who gathered
nearby.  CITATION
Mar \l 1033 [1]




M. Pandanell,
"The Texas City Disaster, April 16, 1947," [Online]. Available:




amaka.ikeaka's picture

On April 16, 1947, a ship containing 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, killing at least 581 people. A major cause of this accident was attributed to negligence, as it was obvious that little to nothing was known regarding the hazards of ammonium nitrate to anyone handling or storing this product. It is necessary when dealing with ammonium nitrate to be fully aware of its hazardous nature, which unfortunately the crew was not made aware of. The ammonium nitrate paper bag wasn't labeled properly to denote that it was a hazardous material, if it was, proper attention would have been paid with regards to its hazardous nature. Attempting to fight the fire without immediately alerting the fire department, and poor judgment on the part of the captain of the Grand-camp, with regards to putting out the fire with steam in place of fie, all set the place for this tragedy. In addition, with a disaster of this nature, the best course of action since no Disaster Relief Plan was in place would have been a complete evacuation of the area and complete isolation of the scene. Fortunately, the emergency and safety response techniques currently in use are far ahead of where they were 60 years ago; the response teams are constantly ready to hand unplanned or intentional incidents.

Henry Tan's picture

You may consider uploading the photo image for debating?

Oluwasegun Onasanya's picture

The Texas fire disaster resulted from the explosive decomposition of Ammonium nitrate fertilizer under fire conditions. The tremendous
violence of the blasts resulted from the formation of large volumes of decomposition gases within the confined areas of the holds of
the ships involved.

The large loss of life occured because of the immediate proximity of persons engaged in the industrial activity of the port and its
exposed properties. This concentration of population was augmented by firemen and a considerable number of curious persons who had
been attracted to the scene by the pre-explosion fire.

The huge property destruction occured because of the direct exposure to blast damage of high valued industrial plants and facilities.
Much of this property was particularly vulnerable to blast damage and self-propagated resultant fires because of the flammable
nature of materials employed in the processing activities or stored preparatory to shipment or use.

Some of the deaths and damage in Texas city were due to the destruction and subsequent burning of seeveral chemical plants, oil storage
and other facilities near the explosion.
Hundreds of lawsuit were filed as a result of the disaster.


1.Texas city
2.The Texas city disaster.

Keqin Chen's picture


The tragedy happened in 1947 in the major industry port of US, Texas, which owned
refineries with the capacity of refinery of 150,000 barrel of oil per day. [1]

According to the analysis of the accident
[2], several main reasons have caused the deadliest industrial accident
in US. history.

Poor Zoning of the port and

There were 11 warehouses, 9 piers, 25
blocks of dwellings within 1 mile radius of the North Slip of the port, which
was the main reason to cause large scale damage.

Safety Procedures drill

The numerous companies near the port
practiced safety drill only for the emergency appeared in the working hours and
only within their confines. And when the explosion went on before working hours
outside of their factories, they did not have enough contingency to minimize
the loss.

Poor Emergency Management

Many factories nearby did not know the
hazards of the port and lack the regulations and rules of safety analysis and
emergency management.




2. Texas City Disaster Presentation,


Keqin Chen

Msc of Oil and Gas Engineering


farman oladi's picture

Texas City Disaster which occurred on April 16, 1947 is one of the worst incidents that happened  so far , when the French ship SS Grand camp exploded in the morning at dockside due to spontaneous combustion or a discarded cigarette while  ship was carrying 8.5 Mt  Ammonium Nitrate and a cargo of small-arms ammunition.Investigations showed that when the disaster started, the captain and crew recognized the fire at the correct moment and it was reported as soon as possible, the fire fighters were sent to location but all the attempts to put the fire under control failed. Then the captain commanded the crew that hull be sprayed with hot steam from the engine room (The fire fighting method available in that time). Hot steam had effected on the Ammonium Nitrate and reforms it to the volatile substance. Finally Ammonium Nitrate reached to explosive threshold and huge explosion was happened.In my opinion the neglected safety factor could have been:·        Ship and dock crews did not seem to be aware of the combustible, reactive, and explosive properties of the ship cargo. ·        Wrong extinguishing method used at that time was not the captain fault, actually is the ship owners fault for choosing wrong firefighting method without enough research that time.

·        Port authorities lacked implementation of "No Smoking" signs in the port, could have contributed to the incident. 

Kingsley ENEM's picture

On 16 April, 1947 began like most spring days in south-east Texas, everything was pleasant and nice. The loading of ammonium nitrate fertilizer onto the S.S Grandcampe ship early on that morning resulted as the largest industrial accident in the United State of America. The ship was partly loaded with some 2,300 tons already, 880 of which were in the lower part of Hold 4. The remains of the ship's cargo comprised of large balls of sisal twine, peanuts, drilling equipment, tobacco, cotton and a few cases of small ammunition. There were no safety standards at that time.
Approximately 8 a.m. in the morning, signs of smoke were noticed by the longshoremen from the Hold while waiting to hoist the first 100 pound packages from the dock. Shortly afterwards, a plume was noticed rising between the cargo holds and the ship's hull, apparently about seven or eight layers of sacks down. The fire continued growing and was unable to be extinguished by the crew, the longshoremen were ordered out of the hold. The Grandcampe exploded at about 9:12 am, pouring tons molten steel and burning cargo over the town, People were knocked to the ground in the town of Galveston some 10 miles away, and creating a 15 foot wall of water that washed over the port. The emergency rescue and recovery team began in earnest, but the tragedy wasn't over yet. Late that same evening, fires were seen coming from the hold of the High Flyer, a ship which had been severely damaged in the Grandcampe explosion. At about 1:00 am, The High Flyer herself exploded, damaging another ship, the Wilson B. Keene, and also pouring burning rubbles over the residences and industrial sites in Texas City. The fires burned for several days before it was controlled.
After the incidence, More than 570 people were killed and more 3,500 injured. Of the death, 63 were unable to be identified and more than 100 were presumed dead, as they were never seen.
Soon After, numerous of the industrial plants in the region made an obligation to reconstruct in Texas City, providing a foundation for the citizens to remain as well. As a result of the disaster, Texas City is better equipped with improved safety standards, emergency systems and good working relationship among industries.


Oluwatadegbe Adesunloye Oyolola's picture

One of the worst disasters in Texas history occurred on April 16, 1947, when the ship SS Grandcamp exploded at 9:12 A.M. at the docks in Texas City. The French-owned
vessel, carrying explosive ammonium nitrate produced during wartime for explosives and later recycled as fertilizer, caught fire early in the morning, and while attempts were being made to extinguish the fire, the ship exploded. The entire dock area was destroyed, along with the nearby Monsanto Chemical Company, other smaller companies, grain warehouses, and numerous oil and chemical storage tanks. Smaller explosions and fires were ignited by flying debris, not only along the industrial area, but throughout the city. Fragments of iron, parts of the ship's cargo, and dock equipment were hurled into
businesses, houses, and public buildings. A fifteen-foot tidal wave caused by the force swept the dock area. The concussion of the explosion, felt as far away as Port Arthur, damaged or destroyed at least 1,000 residences and buildings throughout Texas City. The ship SS High Flyer, in dock for repairs and also carrying ammonium nitrate, was ignited by the first explosion; it was towed 100 feet from the docks before it exploded about sixteen hours later, at 1:10 A.M. on April 17. The first explosion had killed twenty-six Texas City firemen and
destroyed all of the city's fire-fighting equipment, including four trucks, leaving the city helpless in the wake of the second explosion. No central disaster organization had been established by the city, but most of the chemical and oil plants had disaster plans that were quickly activated.Although power and water were cut off, hundreds of local volunteers began fighting the fires and doing rescue work. Red Cross personnel and other volunteers from surrounding cities responded with assistance until almost 4,000 workers were operating; temporary hospitals, morgues, and shelters were set up.

Probably the exact number of people killed will never be known, although the ship's anchor monument records 576 persons known dead, 398 of who were identified, and 178
listed as missing. All records of personnel and payrolls of the Monsanto Company were destroyed, and many of the dock workers were itinerants and thus difficult to identify. Almost all persons in the dock area-firemen, ships' crews, and spectators-were killed, and most of the bodies were never recovered; sixty-three bodies were buried unidentified. The number of injured ranged in
the thousands, and loss of property totaled about $67 million. Litigation over the Texas City disaster was finally settled in 1962, when the United States Supreme Court refused to review an appeals court ruling that the Republic of France, owner of the Grandcamp, could not be held liable for any claims resulting from the explosion. The disaster brought changes in chemical manufacturing and new regulations for the bagging, handling, and shipping of chemicals. More than 3,000 lawsuits involving the United States government, since the chemicals had originated in U.S. ordnance plants, were resolved by 1956, when a special act passed by Congress settled all claims for a total of $16.5 million. Some temporary housing was built and donated to the city, and other
housing, docks, warehouses, and chemical plants were rebuilt by 1950. Public commemoration of the event began in June of 1947, when the bodies of the unidentified dead were buried together in a memorial cemetery and park, and in 1991 a new section was added to the park.



Oluwatadegbe A.O

MSc Oil and Gas Engineering

Bassey Kufre Peter's picture

My colleagues have spoken intensively on the event
of the accident,  I will say that the
S.S. GRANDCAMP served as a “SACRIFICIAL ANODE” for the other industries… I
present below a statistical report of the losses incurred due to the accident.



Number of people killed                               538                                                                      

Number of injured persons                         2000-3000                            

Number of people missing                          135




Monsanto Chemical Co.

Property                                                              $14,750,000

Use and Occupancy                                        $7,000,000

Texas City Terminal Railway Co.                 $2,500,000                             

Southport Republic Terminal Co.               $325,000

Sid Richardson Refining Co.                         $300,000

Carbide and Carbon Chemical Co.

(Terminal)                                                           $250,000

Seatrain Lines, Inc.                                          $225,00     

Pan American Refining Corp.

(Oil Dock)                                                            $300,000

Humble Pipe Line Co.                                     $700,000

Republic Refining Co.                                     $1,000,000

Railroad Rolling Stock                                     $450,000

Grain Loss                                                           $300,000




Dwellings and Contents                                                $2,000,000

Mercantile Buildings and Stocks                                $1,000,000

Automobiles                                                      $750,000

City and School Property                              $1,000,000



GRAND TOTAL                                                   $32,850,000


The magnitude of the damage and fatalities brought
about a more stringent legislation and HSE guidelines/directives in transporting,
handling and storing hazardous and explosive materials such as AMMONIUM NITRATE.This
improvement has helped to reduced the occurrence of similar disaster in the




Bassey, Kufre Peter
M.Sc-Subsea Engineering-2012/2013
University of Aberdeen.

Maxwell Otobo's picture

This was recorded to be the deadliest industrial accident in the US history. A vessel/cargo ship carrying 2300 tons of ammonium nitrate (which is used in high explosives and as fertilizers) caught fire and exploded at the sea port. About 600 people died and 3500 were injured. This was as a result of poor safety practices and communication as well as lack of stringent supervision.


  • the fire started by a poorly placed cigarette in the hold of the vessel. Smoke was then detetcted as a result of the bags of annomnium nitrate that were on fire.
  • the ship's carpenter was to use a hose of water to extinguish the fire but the captain forbode it, fearful that the water would cause damage to the cargo that is to be used as fertilizers. The captain ordered steam to be used instead which is a good idea but not in this case as the steam fire suppression created a pressure cooker environment for the ammonium nitrate which is very disastrous.
  • The first responders/fire fighters arrived a bit late. The fire grew and caused the cargo ship to explode.


  • the properties of hazardous materials (chemicals) and the consequences of poor handling must be communicated properly to workers/handlers.
  • Companies should always get emergency disaster plans.
  • The best course of action to take in a situation like this is to evacuate the area as quickly as possible, isolate the scene and call for help.




ZHANGYANAN's picture

Topic 19: TEXAS CITY FIRE DISASTER, 16th APRIL, 1947. 

The morning of April 16, 1947, a freighter moored at the Texas City fire, detonated the ship's 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate. The explosion also produces a chain reaction, resulting in the vicinity of the chemical plant explosion. Three kilometers outside the chemical plant can clearly see the smoke rising from the orange port. But pure ammonium nitrate is stable at room temperature, is not sensitive to the blow, collision or friction. Only under high temperature, high pressure, and there can be oxidized substance (reductant) exist and spark an explosion, or violent reaction and explosion mixed with combustible powder.

So, in my pionion, people need to be well treatment before they take over a job.


Zhang Yanan



The Texas City Disaster,
occurring on the 16th of April, began with an explosion on board the
SS Grandcamp. The vessel was docked in the Port of Texas City and was loaded
with approximately 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3).
The initial explosion generated a series of chain explosions resulting in the
deaths of 581 people and over 5000 injured: it is generally considered the
deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history (Stephens, 1997).


The ammonium nitrate
originated from Nebraska and Iowa and was made from a patented process
involving the utilisation of clay, petrolatum, rosin and paraffin. The addition
of these chemicals would act to enhance the inherent volatility of the nitrate (Stephens,


Given the quantity of
ammonium nitrate that vaporised, the energy produced from the explosions would
be about 2.7 kilotons (equivalent to 1.134 kilotons of TNT) (U.S. Army Field
Manual). The explosion on the SS Grandcamp caused a subsequent explosion on the
nearby moored High Flyer, which contained an additional 961 tons of ammonium
nitrate and 1,800 tons of sulphur. Furthermore, an adjacent warehouse contained
a large shipment of fertiliser bound for Europe. The significant explosions in
this area resulted in the SS Wilson B. Keene being completely destroyed by
shrapnel and fire (Stephens, 1997). The blasts ensued and continued on to level
round 1,000 buildings in the surrounding area.


The occurrence of the
Texas City Disaster led to the development of numerous legal cases, resulting
in 168 agencies and representatives being prosecuted for negligent acts
regarding all aspects of the production and post-production infrastructure in
place for ammonium nitrate. When the final claim had been processed, 1,934
awards had been granted that totalled nearly $17,000,000 (Belli, 1956).




Belli, Melvin (1956). “Ready for the Plaintiff!” A story of
Personal Injury Law
. New York: Holt. 338 pp.


Stephens, Hugh W. (1997).
The Texas City Disaster. Austin,
Texas: University of Texas Press. 141 pp.


U.S. Army
Field Manual 5-250: Explosives and Demolition, page 1-2.

James Parry
MSc Subsea Engineering

Mehran Vakil's picture

Nowadays, all of us become aware about the consequences of fire catastrophe occurred in Texas. But, what are the lessons learned about this incident? How can we control the next events?
The main point captured from previous tragedy like Texas fire disaster is perception the key role of storage and handling hazardous materials. There are some proactive regulations implicated in order to mitigate the probability of risks (Alfred, 2009).
First of all it should be mandatory to instruct employees and workers about characteristics of materials. The appropriate temperature and pressure for storing and handling are too much important. Also, utilizing trained and experienced staff is the other significant contributing factor.
Second, labeling and categorizing the hazardous substances play a key role in order to preventing incidents. Besides, they must be maintained in safe and appropriate containers. Also the people who deal with these materials have to taking consideration into them during transporting (bywater, 2010).
Moreover, making improvement the fire fighting methods is the other prominent factor against the fire disaster. Advanced fire fighting technology (AFT) has introduced a method for tracking fire by some small black box. This can reduce the fatalities owing to controlling and putting out the fire (NECN, 2012).

1)ALFRED, R. 2009. April 16, 1947: Ship Explosion Ignites 3-Day Rain of Fire and Death [Online]. Available: [Accessed 4/12 2012].
2)BYWATER. 2010. Hazardous Waste regulations [Online]. Available: [Accessed 4/12 2012].
3)NECN. 2012. New technology unveiled, the future of firefighting [Online]. Available: [Accessed 4/12 2012].


eddy itamah's picture

The Texas City Disaster was the deadliest industrial accident in U.S history. The incident took place on April 16, 1947, and began with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp which was docked in the Port of Texas City. The fire detonated approximately 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate
and the resulting chain reaction of fires and explosions killed at
least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire

The 38% ammonium nitrate, used as fertilizer and in high explosives, was manufactured in Nebraska and Iowa and shipped to Texas City by rail before being loaded on the Grandcamp.

It was manufactured in a patented process, mixed with clay, petrolatum, rosin and paraffin to avoid moisture caking. It was also packaged in paper
sacks, then transported and stored at temperatures that increased its
chemical activity. Longshoremen reported the bags were warm to the touch
prior to loading.

Around 8:00 a.m., smoke was spotted in the cargo hold of the Grandcamp
while it was still moored at its dock. Over the next hour, attempts to
put out the fire or put it under control failed as a red glow returned
after each effort to douse the fire.

Shortly before 9:00 a.m., the captain ordered his men to steam the
hold, a firefighting method where steam is piped in to put out fires in
the hope of preserving the cargo. Meanwhile, the fire had attracted a
crowd of spectators along the shoreline, who believed they were a safe
distance away.
Spectators noted that the water around the docked ship was already
boiling from the heat, and the splashing water touching the hull of the
ship was vaporized into steam. The cargo hold and deck began to bulge as
the pressure of the steam increased inside.

At 9:12 a.m., the ammonium nitrate reached an explosive threshold and the vessel then detonated,
causing great destruction and damage throughout the port. The
tremendous blast sent a 15-foot (4.5 m) wave that was detectable nearly
100 miles (160 km) off the Texas shoreline. The blast leveled nearly
1,000 buildings on land. The Grandcamp explosion destroyed the
Monsanto Chemical Company plant and resulted in ignition of refineries
and chemical tanks on the waterfront. Falling bales of burning twine
added to the damage while the Grandcamp's anchor was hurled across the city. Sightseeing airplanes flying nearby had their wings shorn off, forcing them out of the sky. Ten miles away, people in Galveston were forced to their knees; windows were shattered in Houstons, Texas, 40 miles (60 km) away. People felt the shock 100 miles away in Lousiana. The explosion blew almost 6,350 tons of the ship's steel into the air, some at supersonic speed. Official casualty estimates came to a total of 567, including all the crewmen that remained onboard the Grandcamp,
but many victims were burned to ashes or blown to bits, and the
official total is believed to be an undercount. All but one member of
the Texas City volunteer fire department were killed in the initial
explosion on the docks while fighting the shipboard fire, and with the
fires raging, first responders from other areas were initially unable to
reach the site of the disaster.

The Texas City Disaster is generally considered the worst industrial accident in American history. Witnesses compared the scene to the fairly recent images of the 1943 Air Raid on Bari and the much larger devastation at Nagasaki.
Of the dead, 405 were identified and 63 have never been identified.
These 100 were placed in a memorial cemetery in the north part of Texas
City near Moses Lake. A remaining 113 people were classified as missing,
for no identifiable parts were ever found.

More than 5,000 people were injured, with 1,784 admitted to twenty-one
area hospitals. More than 500 homes were destroyed and hundreds damaged,
leaving 2,000 homeless. The seaport was destroyed and many businesses
were flattened or burned. Over 1,100 vehicles were damaged and 362
freight cars were obliterated—the property damage was estimated at $100
million ($1.04 billion in today's terms).



Fire Prevention and Engineering Bureau of
Texas, Dallas, Texas; The National Board of Fire Underwriters, New York,
New York. 1947.

Stephens, Hugh W. (1997). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press , Texas City Disaster 1947.


Ernest Appiah's picture

This disaster is considered
as one of the most deadly industrial accident ever to occur in the U.S.A. due
to the scale of the casualties involved and the chain reaction resulting from
the fires and explosion. About 581 people lost their lives as result of 2300
tons of ammonium nitrate explosion.

This accident triggered a
lot of law suits against the U.S.A. government for negligent act of omission and
commission. The nature of the accident was so severe that about 63 dead bodies
could not be positively identified and about 113 people who could not be
accounted for were declared as missing including the fire fighters that went to
the rescue. Injury numbers were more than 500 and the cost of this accident was
in the billions of dollars. This tragic disaster surely serves as reminder of
how caution must be exercise at all time in such hazardous industry.



 Everyone one so far has given very good examples of the Story of what happened during the event now known as the Texas city Disaster.

I particularly like the play by play done by eddy itamah and the cost estimations by Bassey Kufre Peter.

However I have noticed there has been very little in the way of preventative measures put in place after the disaster. With many of the major accidents we have looked into there has been a substantial amount of regulations and legislation to follow.

After a quick search online I struggled to find any regulations or legislation which had come directly from the disaster. I managed to read some articles stating processes, standards and safety of a lot of  chemical plants and processes which were developed after the disaster but these are not further defined nor were they enforce upon the companies.


Does anyone feel that there should have been more put in place after?

Does anyone have information on what was done after?

Any examples of incidents which have occurred after the disaster which were caused by similar circumstance. Could have legislation prevented these incidents?




Liam Slaven


The texas accident was a fatal one but one thing i observe in the investigation was the poor safety awareness of the people that were around the scene of the burning vessel Granchamp before the explosion. The explosion would have had less fatalities if the people observing the scene were more safety conscious and this is what we see today when accidents happen, the people standing by and not been safety conscious are always victims of such accidents. safety regulators need to go further than implementing this regulations but also educating the public in terms of emergency response to accidents and on safety consciousness.

Uhunoma Osaigbovo

Subsea Engineering D/L

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