Elwood, IL War Plant Explosion, Jun 1942
WAR PLANT BLAST KILLS 21 WORKERS.
24 Hurt In Explosion Resembling Earthquake, Felt 100 Miles Away.
Elwood, Ill., June 5 -- An explosion so powerful it rocked the earth like a quake within a 100-mile radius, destroyed a shell loading building at the $30,000,000 Elwood Ordnance Plant today, killing at least 21 workmen and injuring 24.
Officials said further search of the ruins might disclose additional bodies and that some of the injured might die.
Army officials announced that the plant as a whole, spread over 23 square miles of flatland 40 miles south of Chicago, continued operations uninterruptedly.
Windows in the southern fringes of Chicago were shattered and residents of northern suburbs along Lake Michigan said the concussion resembled an earthquake.
Army officials and agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an immediate investigation. They declined to speculate on the origin of the explosion, but reports to Joliet police indicated the blast had followed a smaller concussion, as though a heavy shell had detonated and set off the contents of the loading line.
Capt. DAVID P. TUNSTALL, public relations officer at the plant, said identification of the victims would be established as soon as possible.
He said the explosion occurred in a loading line at a shipping building. The plant consists of clusters of four buildings. In the first the shells are received and painted, in the second the TNT is melted and mixed, in the third the shells are loaded, and in the fourth -- the one which was demolished -- the shells are packed for shipment to fighting forces.
TUNSTALL said there were 68 men in the building. He attributed the comparatively small casualty list to the safety construction of the shipping building. The structure was divided into 12 bays, each with concrete side walls and light, fabricated-board outside walls. This construction caused the force of the blast to thrust outward, damaging boxcars on a siding.
An eye-witness description of the explosion was supplied by a young workman from an adjoining building, who said his brother had been in the shipping building. Army officers forbade use of the workman's name.
"We were working in the shell loading building when there was suddenly a terrific explosion," he said. "The shipping building just seemed to disintegrate into the air. All the pieces were blown sky high."
So terrific was the force of the blast that it rattled the windows of Chicago's Northwest Railroad station 40 miles away and brought down showers of soot and cinders from the ceiling.
The Edwardsville Intelligencer Illinois 1942-06-05
Casualty List at Elwood Ordnance Plant:
List of missing:
GEORGE W. CARTER
HENRY B. ABSHER
AUBREY M. CRUM
LAURENCE E. WILSON
CARL H. OLIVO
FREDERICK D. THOMPSON
JAMES A. WALSH
LEO T. MORAN
Continued on page 2