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The Texas City Disaster (1947)

Texas Department of Public Safety Historical Museum and Research Center

Sound | 1947

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  •  About the blast 
  •  Damage to the surrounding area 
  •  Rescue workers organize an immediate response 
  •  The Texas Department of Public Safety lends their portable radio station to coordinate rescue and relief efforts 
  •  The US Army, Red Cross, and Salvation Army provide relief for the wounded and displaced 
  •  Surveying the damage 
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  • About the video
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Presented by the Texas Department of Public Safety, this 1947 government film gives a brief account of the Texas City disaster. On the morning of April 16, 1947, approximately 2,300 tones of ammonium nitrate aboard the SS Grandcamp exploded in the port of Texas City. Killing 581 people, the incident remains the deadliest industrial accident in United States history. The film first reviews the cause and immediate effect of the disaster, chronicling the immense damage to the surrounding community. It then focuses on the official response by state police, local fire departments, and the Department of Public Safety to organize rescue and relief efforts. Please note, this version of the film was edited in order to remove graphic footage of wounded and deceased persons. For access to the complete film, please contact us at info@texasarchive.org.
On the morning of April 16, 1947, a fire broke out within the hold of the SS Grandcamp while docked at a pier in Texas City. Crew were loading the vessel with ammonium nitrate—a chemical used in explosives and fertilizer—at the time. The nearly 2,300 tons of cargo detonated at 9:12 a.m., producing an initial blast that could be heard 150 miles away. Flaming debris caused a chain-reaction of additional fires and explosions on nearby ships as well as neighboring chemical storage facilities and oil refineries. The fires were not extinguished until April 18. In total, 581 people died and more than 3,500 were injured. The disaster prompted the first class-action lawsuit ever filed against the US government. Congress ultimately granted $17 million in compensation to 1,394 victims in 1955. The port was subsequently rebuilt to only handle oil products. The explosion remains the deadliest industrial accident in US history. 
Colonel Homer Garrison Jr.'s lifelong Texas law enforcement career began at age 19 (shortly after graduating from Lufkin High School), when he was appointed deputy sheriff of Angelina County. In 1930, he joined the newly forming Texas Highway Patrol. When the Texas Highway Patrol became part of the Texas Department of Public Safety in 1935, Col. Garrison became the new agency's first assistant director. In 1938, his role changed to director of the DPS and chief of the Texas Rangers, a position he held until his death in 1968. The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum at Fort Fisher is named for him.