A Brief History
On October 20, 1944, during the height of World War II, the Midwestern US city of Cleveland, Ohio, then the 6th biggest city in America (1940 census), was rocked by a massive explosion of liquid natural gas and a subsequent fire, causing the city to suffer 30 city blocks flattened with 130 people killed.
The disaster began around 2:30 pm when a liquefied natural gas tank located above ground started leaking, the vapors finding their way into the sewer system of this industrial city. The gas, owned by the East Ohio Gas Company, gathered in the sewers until it ignited by unknown means with a tremendous explosion. The initial blast was so powerful, a manhole cover flew several miles east to the Glenville neighborhood!
The Fire Department responded quickly and it seemed things were under control when another storage tank above ground blew up at 3:00 pm, leveling the storage tank farm and spreading fire. This time, fires and explosions started a chain reaction.
Hapless people were incinerated in their homes as the fire shot up through drain pipes. Many of the victims were housewives and preschool children, since most men were at work and older kids were at school. Initial estimates of those killed was given as about 200 by the coroner, who observed that the fires were so intense bodies had been vaporized to the point that many could not be counted. At least 600 people were made homeless, and the combination of residential and industrial property (including 2 whole factories) lost was around $15 million. An unknown number of cars and other vehicles were also destroyed. Untold personal stashes of money, stocks and bonds were lost in the fires, as people in that post depression era were often inclined to keep their money hidden at home.
The magnitude of the main explosion has been estimated to equal a 2.4 kiloton nuclear blast, about a sixth of that which Hiroshima experienced almost a year later. This horrible incident compelled natural gas companies to store liquid gas in underground tanks to prevent future such occurrences.
Today people debate different ways we can avoid relying so heavily on hydrocarbon fuels such as natural gas, oil, gasoline, and coal. Perhaps when we do our danger from these sort of disasters will be less. At least we hope so!
Question for students (and subscribers): What is the worst event that happened in Cleveland during your lifetime? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Newton-Matza, Mitchell. Disasters and Tragic Events [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of Catastrophes in American History. ABC-CLIO, 2014.