Kenvil, NJ Hercules Powder Company Explosion, Sept 1940
Many of those who escaped were burned by fire, acid or steam, or lacerated by flying debris. They had only fleeting memories of the scene at the time.
ED POWERS, a worker in the nitroglycerine room, said he looked out a window when he heard the first faint blast.
"About 25 yards across the lot I saw that new solvent recovery building with flames coming out of the windows," he said. "It seemed to fall apart, part of it rising in the air. The explosion was awful. Somehow I went right through the wall of our building, only there wasn't any building. It was blown away, or something. It was only a mess."
He remembered other men, some blinded by acid, some dazed by shock, running past him hunting places of shelter.
POWERS version was typical. Although the injured survivors "those able to leave the hospital after treatment" spoke freely of sabotage when they gathered to discuss the disaster, none had been of much help to investigators.
It was the worst munitions plant explosion in this country in recent times. The notorious Black Tom explosion at Jersey City, N. J., on July 30, 1916, which subsequently was traced to German saboteurs. It resulted only a year ago in a German-American mixed claims commission awarding $50,000,000 damages to persons and firms in this country. The Black Tom explosion killed only four and injured 100 persons.
The explosions severely damaged this community, nearest it. Every window in town was broken, furniture wrecked, power lines torn down and pedestrians knocked to the ground. Dover, six miles away, had windows smashed. The track of the blast extended as far as Poughkeepsie, N. Y., where the ground shook and dishes rattled.
Motorists in New York noticed the ground shake and their automobiles slip. In Long Island Sound, the compression of air whipped the sails on boats. Windows were shattered on a train approaching Hudson, N. Y. At Ossining, N. Y., Sing Sing Prison, inmates were startled by the shaking of dishes in the mess hall.
The destroyed units of the Hercules plant included two solvent recovery buildings, two mix houses, two spill houses, two press houses, two alcohol still structures and two steam-drying houses.