Seventy-three years ago, on an April morning at the port of Texas City near Galveston, crew members of the SS Grandcamp were busy loading thousands of pounds of ammonium nitrate.
“It was the beginning of a beautiful, cool day,” the Houston Chronicle reported, “a breeze was coming out of the north.”
Around 8 a.m., someone noticed smoke coming from the cargo area.
And then, boom.
A massive explosion sent a mushroom cloud more than 2,000 feet toward the clear blue sky, triggering not just a massive fire at a nearby chemical plant but frightening images similar to those that resulted from the United States dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.
“The Russians have dropped a damn A-bomb on us,” a nearby worker told his buddy, according to the Chronicle.
It was not the Russians.
It was ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material commonly used to make fertilizer.
When ammonium nitrate blows up, it blows up big, just as it apparently did earlier this week at a port in Beirut, where the resulting mushroom cloud drew comparisons to the bombing of Hiroshima. But to Texans, the images from the Beirut explosions were an eerie reminder of the disaster suffered there decades ago.
More than 500 people died, with thousands more injured. It was one of the largest explosions in U.S. history. [Continue reading…]