Chattanooga, TN Downtown Explosion, Aug 1974


Chattanooga, Tenn. (AP) -- Heavy rains and darkness halted searching by emergency crews Thursday night for additional victims of an unexplained explosion that razed a half block of downtown buildings.
One person was known dead and 13 others were injured -- one seriously -- as a result of the 3 a.m. blast in the 300 block of Chattanooga's East Ninth Street, a low-income district cluttered with half century old buildings.
The dead man was identified by Erlanger Hospital authorities as FRANK RATCLIFF, 55, address and occupation unknown.
RATCLIFF'S charred body was pulled from the wreckage of a two-story brick structure that was the center of the blast as arson investigators went to work Thursday afternoon.
The explosion leveled a two-story brick structure that housed two nightclubs, a barbershop and several second-sloor apartments. An adjacent church also was gutted by the blast and its ensuing
fire, and a three-story building across a narrow side street was heavily damaged. A fourth building adjacent to the one that housed the nightclubs also was damaged by fire.
Real estate firms representing the building owners estimated damage at $300,000.
Officials refused to speculate on what caused the blast.
"We're not ruling out anything," said Capt. Jerry Evans, a fire department arson investigator. "We're
starting from the bottom up, just like a routine investigation."
The city's investigators were joined by agents from the Treasury Department's Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division.
"We have no idea that it's arson," said Fire Marshal
Mike Quinn. "But we always investigate in something like this."
The explosion shattered plate glass windows up and down the predominantly black business and residential district and blocked busy East Ninth Street with wood, brick and glass debris.
City officials ordered in bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clear the street of rubble. Building inspectors condemned a portion of the damaged three-story brick structure and ordered it razed.
Gov. Winfield Dunn joined Mayor Robert Kirk Walker at the scene Thursday afternoon following a speaking engagement at the nearby University of Tennessee-Chattanooga campus. The governor offered Walker the assistance of state agencies in clearing away the debris and relocating families displaced by the disaster.
Walker earlier had ordered the city's Department of Human Services to give top priority iin finding new homes for an estimated 20 families left homeless by the explosion and fire.

Aiken Standard South Carolina 1974-08-30