Every day we have to engage in a series of checks and balances. We know that, outside, we could get mugged, hit by a car, struck by lightning or attacked by hyenas. But if you live your life in that kind fearful state, you’d never get anything done. So we do go out, we decide the odds on being groped by Carrot Top are limited, and we shop and we work and we go about our lives. And every so often, something so awful happens it makes us cross our legs reflexively and shrink away to the safety of our homes hoping these things never happen to us. What things? Industrial accidents – the most horrible accidents in existence. Some happen on mass scale, some happen to a single person. None are pleasant.
The Texas City Disaster
It happened in 1947 and is one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in mankind’s history. 581 people died including every member of the Texas City Fire Department except one.
The SS Grandchamp was docked at the Port of Texas City. Its cargo included 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate, the basic ingredient of any good fertilizer bomb as well as sisal twine and various other items. It was at 8:00 am when smoke was first discovered. For over an hour attempts were made to extinguish the blaze. By this time a crowd had gathered on shore to watch the ocean boil against the hull of the slowly bulging ship. 12 minutes later the ammonium nitrate reached critical temperature and the ship exploded spectacularly, devastating everything within range.
The ship’s 2 ton anchor was hurled nearly two miles away. The explosion created a 15 foot wave that traveled outward for 100 miles. On the shore, more ammonium nitrate in a warehouse exploded along with a Monsanto chemical plant. 40 miles away in Houston, windows exploded. 100 miles away in Louisiana people felt the ground shake. And it wasn’t over.
The Texas City firefighters had all died in the blast save one. There were no trucks left to put out any of the destroyed and still burning wreck as flaming balls of sisal twine fell from the skies and over 6,000 tons of blazing ship steel blasted at supersonic speed through the air. And 600 feet away was the SS High Flyer. Its cargo? 961 tons of ammonium nitrate.
15 hours after the Grandchamp exploded, and after 5 hours of fighting smoke on the SS High Flyer, its cargo also exploded, blowing up a 3rd nearby vessel. The entire waterfront was left in ruins. One of the propellers from the High Flyer, found a mile inland, is now part of a memorial park.
Fires burned for well over a week afterward. Firefighters from as far away as Los Angeles came to help put a stop to the destruction. It took nearly a month to recover all of the bodies, some of which were never identified, and some of which were never found at all. The death toll of 581 is thought to be extremely conservative and doesn’t account for travelers, dock workers, sailors on leave and others who may have simply been vaporized n the blast. The total cost of destruction, adjusted for inflation, was over $1 billion.
Late one night at a meat packing plant in Oregon, Hugo Avalos-Chanon was working on a sanitation crew cleaning up the location. The location had been cited for safety concerns in the past and it’s unknown whether the machine Hugo was cleaning was supposed to be operating at the time or if the switch was tripped accidentally. What happened was arguably one of the worst accidents you’ve ever heard of.
With the machine running, an industrial blender used to regulate the fat content in ground beef, Hugo fell in. It was, for lack of a better term, a man-sized meat grinder. Other workers rushed to an emergency stop but it was too late to make any difference. The ensuring investigation said Hugo had died of multiple blunt force and chopping injuries. We can only hope it was fast.
The Penis Peeler
Edgardo Toucet Echevarria, a Puerto Rican national, neither read nor spoke English when he was given a temp job working for Future Foam. His assignment was to operate a peeler machine, a spinning, razor-sharp monstrosity that removes uneven edges from carpeting. No one told Edgardo how to use the machine. Nor did anyone point out that the safety guard on the machine had been removed.
In the course of assisting someone on the machine, and as a result of not being trained and no safety features in place, the rapidly spinning blades chewed into Echevarria, completely severing his penis and testicles in the blink of an eye. Imagine the speed, the sharpness of the blades and the horrible scene that took only a moment to develop as Echevarria leaned too close.
The lawsuit Echevarria filed afterwards was voluntarily dismissed shortly afterwards for unknown reasons, but he filed a second suit a couple years later against the staffing company that sent him to work. Among the clams in the lawsuit were that he had been sliced nearly in half and he had suffered a dramatic loss in the capacity to enjoy life. No kidding.
The Bhopal Disaster
On the night of December 2nd, 1984, methyl isocyante began leaking from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Methyl isocyanate, or MIC, is a volatile chemical used in pesticides that is highly toxic to humans. 27 tons of the chemical flowed into the nearby city of 900,000 people. Over 500,000 people were exposed to the gas and not a single one of the 6 safety protocols that were supposed to be in place functioned properly.
Those exposed to the gas were awakened with severe burning in their eyes and lungs. Vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing followed them as they fled their homes. Children and those on foot would have had increased exposure risk as they fled. Many were trampled to death trying to escape.
By morning, thousands were dead. 170,000 people were in nearby hospitals. Bodies were buried or cremated en masse, many more were dumped into a nearby river. Official claims put the death toll at 3,800. Those tasked with loading bodies onto massive funeral pyres for cremation estimate they moved at least 15,000 bodies. At least 8000 funeral shrouds were sold during the first week. To date, estimates of the death toll hover around 25,000. Another 120,000 more still suffer long term effects including blindness, breathing difficulties and even gynecological issues.
Survivors shared tales of being awoken by a searing, white cloud that made it feel as though their lungs were filled with fire. Bleary eyed with pain and tears they ran into the night as the white cloud chased them down muddy alleys in the dim, blurry light of street lights. Many people fell to the ground, trampled underfoot in the panic, children lost track of their parents in the fray as those who had inhaled too much began to lose control of their bodies, urinating and defecating as they fled while others fell to the ground and drowned in their own vomit . Expectant mothers stumbled in pain as their wombs spontaneously opened, aborting their unborn children. It was catastrophic horror.
The aftermath has seen survivors suffering through cancer, kidney disorders, liver disorders and what one doctor described as “monstrous births.” Up through 2010 victims were still dying at a rate of one per day.
The CEO was charged with manslaughter and the company charged with culpable homicide. To this day no one has stood trial. The CEO lives comfortably in the Hamptons, having never been extradited.