Standard Oil Plant Explosion, Feb 1930, Elizabeth NJ

Standard Oil Plant Explosion
Elizabeth, NJ - February 1930

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The Portsmouth Herald
Portsmouth, N.H.

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FOUR KILLED AND OVER 60 INJURED IN EXPLOSION

Terrific Blast Occurs At Refining Plant At Elizabeth, N. J.

(By Associated Press)

Elizabeth, N.J., Feb. 19 – Four men were killed and 60 injured, more than a score critically, in the explosion of gas that escaped from a maze of coiled pipes late yesterday at the Bayway refining plant of the Standard Oil Company.  Most of the injured were burned about the face and hands and doctors feared some would lose their eyesight.

A brief statement by J. Raymond Carrigan, general manager of the plant, said the blast was caused by the rupture of "a gas line." A number of the injured men reported seeing a "blue vapor" escaping from the alcohol plant [in which the explosion took place], before the sheet of flame that enveloped them, came.

Most of the injured men were bricklayers, pipefitters and carpenters, working on a building under construction a scant two feet from the alcohol plant.  None could tell what happened.  One man said he turned at the sound of the explosion, to see "everybody afire" and "running or falling from the scaffolds."  In addition to burns, several of the injured suffered broken bones.

Three of the dead were identified.  Two of the men were trapped in the alcohol plant, and the body of one was taken out later in the position it was found - on hands and knees.

Every available ambulance from the city's three hospitals rushed to the plant, about a mile beyond the outskirts, when word of the accident spread.  Thirty-three of the injured were brought to Elizabeth General Hospital, 28 to the St. Elizabeth's Hospital, and two to Alexian Brothers Hospital.

Every room and corridor in the Elizabeth General and St. Elizabeth's became an emergency ward.  Doctors and nurses were recruited by the use of every telephone within reach.  Within an hour the doors of each institution were stormed by the relatives of the dead and injured.

The explosion came about an hour before quitting time for the men working in the new building.  One of the men believed the gas would have been carried away by the wind if it had not reached a forge full of glowing coals used for heating rivets.

The plant from which the gas came, a one-story brick affair containing distilling apparatus and vats of acid and alcohol, seemed little affected by the blasts and fire.  Four tool sheds nearby were destroyed.

The fire department of the Standard Oil Company extinguished the flames within a half-hour after the explosion, while the work of carrying out the injured went on.

Well before all the injured had arrived at the hospitals, fearful friends and relatives who had reports that scores were killed, were on hand.  During the first hour utmost confusion prevailed at St. Elizabeth's and the Elizabeth General Hospital, while hurried attempts were made to obtain the names of the victims and guide the searchers to the proper institution.

Row upon row, in wards from which convalescing patients had been moved, and in corridors, the men were placed in cots hurriedly placed in service, while nuns, nurses, doctors and priests moved among them. Administering hands appeared by the score and each patient had virtually individual attention after the first hour of confusion.

The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, N.H. – 19 Feb. 1930


DEATH LIST REACHES TEN

(By Associated Press)

Elizabeth, N.J., Feb. 19 – The list of dead among the gas explosion victims lying in Elizabeth hospitals as the result of an explosion of naptha, which enveloped more than 60 workmen at the Bayway refinery of the Standard Oil Company in flames, rose to ten this afternoon.  Almost a score remained on the rolls of critically injured and many of the survivors were feared to be blinded for life.

The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, N.H. – 19 Feb. 1930

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[Comment by: David B. Tuttle (not verified) – Posted: 27 Oct 2014 - 21:05]

One of the tales that my father told while I was growing up included a brief first-hand account of this event.  He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1928 with a Bachelor's degree in Petroleum Chemistry.  After a year or so working at a balloon factory in Akron, Ohio, he started work at Standard Oil of New Jersey in August, 1929.  He was working in the research lab at the Bayway refinery when the explosion occurred, luckily on the side of the lab building away from the major impact.  He was not seriously injured, but he was reportedly thrown to the floor along with a lot of broken glassware and laboratory equipment.  Thank you for providing the full story!

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This page last updated 19-Mar-2016

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