St. Paul, MN Explosion In 3M Building, Feb 1951




St. Paul, Minn. -- (UP) -- A butane gas explosion ripped through a section of the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company today, killing at least 10 persons and injuring 53.
The explosion occurred shortly before 8:30 a.m., a few moments after a foreman at the plant, JOHN RICHARDS, said "I smell gas" and went to investigate.
Six bodies were brought to the Ramsey county morgue and three to Ancker hospital. A fourth person died at the hospital later, and a hospital attendant said 16 others who were kept there were in critical condition and indicated others might die.
St. John's hospital treated three persons for minor injuries and then released them. St. Luke's hospital said it had received no dead, had about nine bed patients, and admitted about 20 for treatment before sending them home. Other hospitals reported admitting no one.
The blast occurred in the mineral building, a five-story section of the sprawling plant, in which all sections are connected.
Minerals are crushed in that section of the building, then are treated in ovens heated with butane gas. Sandpaper is made from the crushed minerals.
Two other buildings were "pretty thoroughly" damaged, the company reported. About 30 persons were working in the building where the explosion occurred.
The explosion shattered windows in homes in the vicinity. It blasted out one wall of the building and bulged out other walls. Machinery inside the building was a tangled mess of steel.
Fire broke out in the building after the blast, and firemen worked for several hours getting it out. They were aided by a sprinkling system in the building which kept on operating during the ensuing fire.
Firemen and police ambulances rushed to the scene to carry off the dead and injured. The scene at the plant was gruesome.
Several hours after the blast firemen said they believed all bodies and injured persons had been removed from the building.
Parts of bodies were blown from the building. Parts of other bodies were hanging from steel beams, or sticking out of windows. Many of the injured lost arms or legs.
The company said the explosion was believed caused by butane gas.
DONALD BITTNER, 29, an electrician working 100 feet away from the building where the explosion occurred, said "I heard a terrific blast. It sounded like an earthquake."
"I rushed into the building," he said. "I saw parts of bodies hanging over steel beams. Others were fraped over machines."
"I saw people with no arms coming out of the building. I saw people with faces just a bloody mass coming out. I saw others without legs crawling out of the building."
A boxcar sitting on the tracks nearby was crumpled like a matchbox. One body was blown from the building and landed on the tracks, the head being severed. An elevator operator in a building a block away was knocked down and injured by the blast. In the section where the explosion occurred a steel door on a freight elevator was crumpled into a roll.
Authorities said it would be hours before all the dead were identified. The first victim brought to the morgue, a man about 45 or 50 in workman's clothes, had the top of his head blown off and his head was smashed to a pulp above the mouth. His left leg was ripped from the socket at the hip. His clothes were shredded.
The blast was heard for miles. Police switchboards were swamped with telephone calls and many anxious wives and families rushed to the scene. Firemen roped off thousands of persons as firemen carried out rescue work and fought the fire with dry ice, getting it under control.
The firm manufactures scotch tape, abrasives, special tapes and "safety grip" tape which can be put on the bottom of shoes of workmen who must work in high places that might be slippery.

St. Paul, Minn. -- (UP) -- Glaze-eyed relatives stumbled into the Ramsey county morgue today to view the crushed bodies of husbands and fathers killed in the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company explosion.
They wandered about holding handkerchiefs to their eyes, confused, afraid and torn apart inside by grief.
"Yes, that's him," a woman said. "That's him. Oh my God!"
Families came in from the zero cold outside, their faces looking half frozen in the face of tragedy. No one had words of comfort for them. No one spoke unless the cold, monotonous tone of a morgue attendant asked them who they came to find.
I was here when the first body was brought in just before 10 a.m., and it was as bad as anything I'd seen in the last war. The man was blown apart.
Dr. Carl A. Ingerson, the coroner, said the victims were hit in much the same way as victims of an atomic explosion, minus the searing heat.
"They were crushed by the concussion of the blast," Ingerson said. "You could look at their bodies and at first all you could tell was that they were unconscious. Inside the skin they was a mass of broken bones. Those that were nearer the explosion were mutilated."
Ingerson said that the blast sent terrific concussion waves through the building, "in much the same way that an atomic bomb would."
"And if those guys happened to be in range," he said, "they didn't have a chance of getting out alive."

Sheboygan Journal Wisconsin 1951-02-08