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1955 Whiting refinery fireplace ranks as catastrophic industrial accident
Updated on August 24, 2015 Robert Kostanczuk moreContact Creator Documentary examines the Indiana conflagration that raged for days at Standard Oil plant
Story by Robert Kostanczuk
In the early morning of Aug. 27, 1955, the usual Oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., was rocked by a titanic explosion.
The destruction that followed nonetheless ranks as some of the monumental industrial accidents in United States historical past — 60 years later.
An estimated 1.25 million barrels of crude oil and refined product burned and went up in gasification smoke.
Combating the hearth didn’t totally come to an end for eight days — it smoldered for that long.
In its coverage of the disaster, The Gary Put up-Tribune mentioned that one storage tank was nonetheless belching black smoke because the catastrophe entered “its second week.br>A 3-12 months-outdated boy was killed when a large, torpedo-like chunk of steel from the blast soared by means of the air from a minimum of a quarter-mile away and tore by the highest of his home, striking him in the bedroom.
The boy’s 8-12 months-previous brother — who was in the identical room — also was hit by the flying debris and had a leg severed in the 2600 block of Schrage Ave.
A plant supervisor in his early 60s died of a heart attack when he arrived at the engulfed refinery to help battle the catastrophe.
Dozens of people were injured, several homes were destroyed and plenty of more were substantially broken.
Refinery workers and firefighters from surrounding cities, who, combined, numbered within the hundreds, fought the inferno for days.
I do know these info because I wrote a detailed retrospective on the conflagration to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2005.
I had a personal curiosity within the story that I did for the Post-Tribune of northwest Indiana.
My elementary-grades schooling happened at Whiting’s Immaculate Conception College, located just several blocks from the refinery.
My family lived on the 2400 block of White Oak Avenue — the second avenue over from the refinery that sits alongside Lake Michigan.
I used to be 10 months outdated when, at around 6:12 a.m., my neighborhood was rocked when the 26-story tall Fluid Hydroformer Unit seven hundred blew apart — the result of a combustible mix of gases and oxygen.
The nightmare had begun for the 1,600-acre Customary plant.
Sheets of flames shot a half-mile or more into the air. A dense, gargantuan mushroom cloud of smoke billowed a few miles into the sky.
The Saturday blast at FHU 700 prompted a frightening shaking of my house. One of the members of my household recalls her bedroom window being shattered. We needed to evacuate and stick with kin for quite a while.
Flying metallic rocketed for about two blocks earlier than demolishing a storage. A grocery store was leveled. Numerous home windows had been broken.
For my 50th anniversary story, I interviewed a sixty eight-12 months-previous Whiting resident who lived just a few blocks from the refinery when its gigantic hydroformer exploded in 1955.
He mentioned the concussive drive “blew me out of mattress.br>The destruction of FHU seven hundred set off a collection of oil-tank blasts.
When it was all mentioned and done, more than 60 mammoth storage tanks have been destroyed.
In conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the usual Oil catastrophe in 2015, the quick documentary — “One Minute After Sunrise” — will probably be proven free of cost at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27, within the Whiting High school Auditorium. The film consists of recollections from numerous folks in regards to the huge industrial accident. DVDs of “One Minute After Sunrise” will likely be accessible for $12 on the showing.
Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura was born the 12 months after the refinery catastrophe, but he realizes the reminiscence of it lingers in his community.
“It’s kind of embedded in people’s minds; it was most likely a pretty wonderful and horrific sight at that time,Stahura instructed me in a latest interview.
The mayor has had a private stake in the oil trade that’s part of the very fiber of Whiting, which has been promoted as the “Little Cityon Lake Michigan. Stahura mentioned he worked at the refinery for nearly 23 years before becoming mayor, having been employed there when the plant went through identify transitions — from Amoco, to BP Amoco to just BP, the refinery’s current title.
The refining of crude oil into gasoline is, you could possibly say, part of Whiting’s character.
Whiting — now with a population of about 5,000 — celebrated its centennial in 1989 based on when the usual Oil Firm broke ground for its refinery in Whiting, which was 1889.
Whiting was not formally included as a city till 1903.
2003 marked the final 12 months Stahura was employed on the refinery, the place he labored in the operations department and finally became a coaching coordinator in that department who handled safety points.
Stahura, 58, expressed optimism that a repeat of an industrial accident on the dimensions of the 1955 incident can be avoided.
“I don’t think something like that could even occur in today’s world with all of the safeguards and safety tools put in place,he said.
That, for me, is a comforting opinion.
The horrid expertise of Aug. 27, 1955, is one thing you don’t wish to relive.
One of the vital haunting images from the blast appeared in the Submit-Tribune.
The nighttime photograph reveals two of the Indiana National Guardsmen who had been called in to keep onlookers from getting too close to the harmful accident site, and to guard the peace and prevent looting.
As refinery flames roar within the background, the 2 helmeted guardsmen stand alone a deserted road with what seem like rifles strapped to their shoulders.
You may nearly feel the eerie quiet and sense the ravaged, desolate landscape.
Many a whole bunch of residents who lived close to the standard Oil plant had already been evacuated.
I don’t like utilizing the time period “war zoneto describe scenes that are not actually a part of military conflict, however in this case, the Nationwide-Guardsmen picture really did convey the feel of a war zone.
Part of the National Guardsmen’s tasks was to keep site visitors away from Indianapolis Boulevard, which borders the refinery.
It was reported that elements of the boulevard melted from flaming fuel.
Amazingly, the usual Oil refinery was back at normal crude-barrel production levels about three months after the explosions and blaze.
Right now, the BP Whiting Refinery remains an important source of revenue for the town.
“It’s our largest taxpayer,Stahura famous. “They’re great partners with us right now. They employ a ton of people.br>The petroleum mecca also retains the community’s century-old “Oil Cityidentification going.
Whiting High school sports activities teams are named the Oilers.
Nightmare hit small city within the ’50s
Hellish smoke from refinery billowed skyward
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