Oakdale, PA Aetna Chemical Plant Explosion, May 1918



Pittsburg, May 18. -- Probably two hundred men were killed today when an explosion of TNT demolished the plant of the AEtna Chemical Company, at Oakdale, on the Panhandle division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, sixteen miles west of this city.
Five hundred workmen in the plant were startled at noon today by a report not much louder than the crack of a pistol. It came from the soda house, but they knew its deadly import, and as one man they rushed for the nearest exit.
Before they could gain the open the very air seemed to burst into flames, the earth heaved and rocked, and, with a road that was heard for miles, the long factory buildings were hurled high into the air, carrying with them ponderous equipment and scores of men.
A great cloud of dust and smoke settled over the scene, and through its deadly fumes torn and mangled forms dropped to the earth, many dead, but others to meet their end in the flaming debris.
The exact number of dead had not been determined tonight and it was possible that it would not be known for days, if indeed it will ever be known.
Many of the injured, some of whom were found as far as half a mile from the remnants of the factory, were brought to Pittsburgh hospitals by special train and in ambulances during the afternoon and early evening. In only a comparatively few instances were physicians able to hold out any hope for their recovery.
The property loss was estimated at $1,500,000.
Immediately after the second explosion the mass of broken beams and twisted timbers broke out in a great blaze, while the highly inflammable chemicals used in the manufacture of the factory's deadly products T.N.T. and T.N.A., added ample fuel to the flames. Blast after blast followed as the heat reached the tanks, each one scattering the burning embers and endangering property in the entire community. Noxious gases rose from the burning mass and spread over the little valley and surrounding hills, making perilous the work of rescue.
Telephone and telegraph wires were wrecked by the explosion and the tracks of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (the Panhandle route) were blocked by the falling buildings. An employe hastened to Carnegie, four miles distant, where wreck and relief trains were quickly made up and hurried to Oakdale, while every hospital in Pittsburgh sent ambulances with nurses and doctors. Company guards, under the direction of a detail of the state constabulary, surrounded the burning ruins, and were later reinforced by deputy sheriffs and a large party of deputy coroners.
For a time it seemed as though it would be impossible to reach the wounded because of the hear, the constantly widening zone of gases and the danger from explosion. But the nurses and doctors were not to be deterred, and, aided by the officers, they made their way as best they could.
One of the nurses, MERYL ASCHELMAN, whose home is in New Philadelphia, Ohio, was acting as a stretcher bearer, carrying a wounded man to the ambulance, when one of the explosions came.
She was thrown to the ground and the patient on the stretcher was killed. When help reached MISS ASCHELMAN it was found that one leg had been blown off.

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