Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 13, 2009


A friend was describing this over dinner the other night and we thought we'd share the remarkable story

Wikipedia - The Halifax Explosion occurred on Thursday, December 6, 1917, when the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, was devastated by the huge detonation of the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship, fully loaded with wartime explosives, which accidentally collided with the Norwegian SS Imo in "The Narrows" section of the Halifax Harbour. About 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, or collapsed buildings and it is estimated that over 9,000 people were injured. This is still the world's largest man-made accidental explosion. . .

Hundreds of onlookers gathered on the shores of the harbor, watching as flaming Mont-Blanc eventually drifted along Pier 6 on the Richmond side of the waterfront, spreading the fire onto land. . .

At 9:04:35 AM, the cargo of Mont-Blanc exploded with more force than any man-made explosion before it, equivalent to roughly 3 kilotons of TNT. (Compare to atomic bomb Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima, which had an estimated power of 15 kilotons TNT equivalent.). The ship was instantly destroyed in the giant fireball that rose over 1.2 mi into the air, forming a large mushroom cloud. Shards of hot metal rained down across Halifax and Dartmouth. The force of the blast triggered a tsunami, which rose up as high as 60 ft above the harbor's high-water mark on the Halifax side. It was caused by the rapid displacement of harbor water near the blast, followed by water rushing back in towards the shore. . . There was little information documented on this event as witnesses were generally stunned and injured as the wave washed ashore, though the wave contributed to the death toll, dragging many victims on the harbor front into the waters. . . .

A black rain of unconsumed carbon from the Mont-Blanc fell over the city for about 10 minutes after the blast, coating survivors and structural debris with soot. . . .

Some 326 acres of Halifax was destroyed, essentially leaving a 1 mi radius around the blast site uninhabitable. Many people who had gathered around the ship either to help or watch were killed in the blast or were hit by the resulting tsunami. Others who had been watching from the windows of their homes and businesses were killed instantly or severely injured by flying glass as their windows shattered inwards.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might wish to do a piece on the explosion of the ammunition ship at Port Chicago during WWII.
Chris Seger- USNR '60-64

August 13, 2009 6:38 PM  
Anonymous Tom Puckett said...

Looks like a morel mushroom cloud, from the photo.

August 13, 2009 6:57 PM  
Anonymous PJ said...

Here is the current giga-critical human situation: There is a bomb far bigger than this under every chair and bed and movieseat on this planet...set to go off at the turn of two keys or a terrorist's whim or by the statistically certain big nuclear accident. Earth is now a big round bomb, wired to blow. And science can prove that when the globe goes, your locality will not remain.

"The next 60 seconds could seem like an eternity..."

August 14, 2009 11:30 AM  
Blogger Louis said...

There was also the Black Tom explosion of 1916 in Jersey City, fronting on New York Harbor. There is a lengthy wikipedia article on this disaster - thought to this day to have been an act of German sabotage. Two million pounds of munitions - including 100 thousand pounds of TNT on a barge- blew up. Much of the explosives had been stored in freight cars for eventual shipment to our future allies in World War I. The explosion damaged the Statue of Liberty, including its arm, which was closed to tourists and to this day, never reopened.

August 21, 2009 2:50 AM  

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