October 20

This Day in History

Disaster

Oct 20, 1944:

Natural gas explosions rock Cleveland

Two liquid gas tanks explode in Cleveland, Ohio, killing 130 people, on this day in 1944. It took all of the city's firefighters to bring the resulting industrial fire under control.

At 2:30 p.m., laboratory workers at the East Ohio Gas Company spotted white vapor leaking from the large natural gas tank at the company plant near Lake Erie. The circular tank had a diameter of 57 feet and could hold 90 million cubic feet of the highly flammable gas. Ten minutes later, a massive and violent explosion rocked the entire area. Flames went as high as 2,500 feet in the air. Everything in a half-mile vicinity of the explosion was completely destroyed.

Shortly afterwards, a smaller tank also exploded. The resulting out-of-control fire necessitated the evacuation of 10,000 people from the surrounding area. Every firefighting unit in Cleveland converged on the East Ohio Gas site. It still took nearly an entire day to bring the fire under control. When the flames went out, rescue workers found that 130 people had been killed by the blast and nearly half of the bodies were so badly burned that they could not be identified. Two hundred and fifteen people were injured and required hospitalization.

The explosion had destroyed two entire factories, 79 homes in the surrounding area and more than 200 vehicles. The total bill for damages exceeded $10 million. The cause of the blast had to do with the contraction of the metal tanks: The gas was stored at temperatures below negative 250 degrees and the resulting contraction of the metal had caused a steel plate to rupture.

Newer and safer techniques for storing gas and building tanks were developed in the wake of this disaster.

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