Galveston, TX Grain Elevator Explosion, Dec 1977
6 MORE BODIES RECOVERED -- DEATH TOLL PUT AT 15.
Galveston, Texas -- The bodies of six persons were found Wednesday beneath tons of debris from the explosion of the Farmers Export Grain Elevator, pushing the death count to 15 in the disaster. But officials had little success in finding clues to the cause of the deadly blast.
At least three more bodies were expected to be found when the body search resumes after dawn today.
The cause of the explosion remained unclear Wednesday but officials speculated that low humidity in Galveston Tuesday night may have been a critical factor.
"You have drier, combustible materials" when they humidity is low, said L. E. Bartelt, administrator of the Federal Grain Inspection Service. Bartelt arrived in Galveston late Wednesday morning. At least four of the victims of the disaster were identified as members of the Federal Grain Inspection Service and three more remained unaccounted for.
Paul Mabry, public relations director for the Galveston Wharves, said others concurred in the theory of low humidity as a factor in the explosion.
"The drier the stuff gets, the more it tends to pop. The low humidity had to play a part in this explosion," Mabry said he had been told.
The humidity in Galveston about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday was 50 percent, lower than normal for the island. The humidity was also lower than normal last Thursday at a grain elevator explosion in Louisiana.
Bartelt likened the volatile nature of grain to gasoline. "Handling grain is not too different than handling gasoline. We've got to learn to do it better."
Despite the speculation that the conditions for an explosion may have been made more favorable by the low humidity Tuesday, investigators said they still have no clear indications what set the holocaust off.
"Its still undetermined at this time (late Wednesday afternoon) as to the cause," said Galveston Fire Chief Hugh O'Donohoe. The chief said investigators have no reason as yet to suspect the cause is not accidental. "There's no reason to believe that it is of suspected origin."
Bart Lindquist, of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said his investigation had reached only the preliminary stages Wednesday and may take several weeks to complete.
Statements taken by Galveston police from survivors of the holocaust show the explosion was apparently touched off in or near the rail car dump bin south of the elevator and then spread through an underground connecting tunnel into the elevator Head House. The resulting explosion blasted open the 15-foot tunnel, and devasted the Farmer's office building which was situated above the tunnel between the dump bin and the elevator. It also blasted out the north and south walls of the Head House, collapsing machinery within; buckled a storage silo east of the elevator; and caused a portion of the overhead conveyor system leading from the elevator to the wharf to fall.
Workers were crushed by the force of the explosion and the falling debris.
Four railroad boxcars and an engine at the unloading bin were destroyed and five other boxcars and another engine were derailed in the area. Four sets of parallel tracks were twisted beyond use for a length of about 100 feet.
Officials feared that the bodies of the persons still unaccounted for would be found beneath the ruins of the rail dump bin. Cutting torches and bulldozers were being used late Wednesday night to untangle the mass of twisted steel that once was the bin and railroad cars.
Most of the bodies located Wednesday were in the Head House area where heavy cranes had to be used to move the pile of rubble. A brother of one of the victims watched the body search calmly for most of the day but then openly cried when workers found his sister's body in the Head House area.
Rescue workers labored for four hours Tuesday night to free survivors trapped in the tons of rubble. The final survivor to be freed from the devastation, a woman, was pulled out about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday in the area north of the Head House.
Robert Steen, the first police officer on the scene, told of a grim scene in his official report of the explosion aftermath Tuesday night.
"At first," Steen said, "no one could be found, but when we (Steen, with Officer T. Cantela and Lt. D. K. Lack) started going through the rubble, bodies could be seen on the outskirts of the explosion."
Lack pulled back to take over command of the rescue operations and Steen and Cantela were joined by Officer Milton Strickland. Steen's report continues:
"We began to yell to locate survivors. After several minutes, I heard a faint voice. He had been sitting in a chair when a cement wall fell on him. We then found two other survivors and began digging them out. These three survivors were buried under several feet of twisted metal, cement and grain."
Galveston officials received such an overwhelming response from out of town aid that many emergency units had to be turned back when the scene began to be clogged by the overflow of vehicles and personnel.
Farmer's Export officials had no comment Wednesday on the deadly explosion that ripped through the company's multi-million dollar facility.
Several times Wednesday, reporters were turned away from the company's makeshift headquarters in a trailer near the elevator.
Farmers employees who had been off-work Tuesday night said the company had held a safety meeting after the Louisiana grain elevator disaster last week.
"Everyone was real shaky," said Farmers employee Russel Bullacher, 19, of Galveston, who said he planned to quit his job.
NAMES OF DEAD, INJURED LISTED.
At least 15 persons lost their lives in the explosion that rocked the Farmers Export Grain Elevator Tuesday night at the port of Galveston. Another 22 persons were treated at John Sealy Hospital.
LARRY LEE BIGGS, 25, of 5929 Terre Bonne in Hitchcock.
DENNIS LAMB, 26, of 2317 Broadway in Galveston, a grain weigher for Farmers.
NICK DiPESO, 26, of 406 Deats Road in Dickinson.
DAVID CORRADO BELLUOMINI, 26, of 2514 39th Street in Galveston, a worker with the Federal Grain Inspection Service.
DAVID LEE WATERS, 35, of 3811 Avenue O, a train operator for Farmers.
CALDWELL SINEGUARE, 25, of 1818 AVE. M 1/2, a laborer for Farmers.
EUGENE ALLEN STOKKE, 37, of 2211 25th Ave. North in Texas City.
ALVIN LEUDERS, 25, of Webster, a worker with the Federal Grain Inspection Service.
W. R. JAMES, 28, of Texas City.
HARRISON JOHN MURRAY, 26, of Galveston.
CLARENCE TORBETT, age and address not released.
JAMES NELSON BADGER, 51, of Texas City.
MIKE TAMALENUS, 26, of Galveston.
ANNETTE FIGARO, age and address not released, a worker with the Federal Grain Inspection Service.
CHARLES WILLIAMS, 21, address not released.
SAMUEL SIMMONS, 23, of 1410 34th St. in Galveston, critical condition.
THOMAS JOHNSON, 40, of 3623 Ave. N 1/2 in Galveston, treated and released.
ANDREW FARMER, 33, of 7501 Heard's Lane in Galveston, satisfactory condition.
WYNN SPERGOL, 62, of 3620 Ave. I in Galveston, treated and released.
DANIEL LOVE, 22, of 2716 Ave. Q in Galveston, treated and released.
ROBERT RIDDO, 21, of 3712 Ave. L in Galveston, good condition.
HOWARD DOTY, 23, address not released, treated and released.
MARTIN DENNIS, 24, 1515 Ave. L in Galveston, fair condition.
HOWARD REED, 24, of 1214 32nd Street in Galveston, satisfactory condition.
JOHN WESLIE, 39, of 507 First Ave. South in Texas City, good condition.
DAVID SMITH, 30, of 1207B Ave. L in Galveston, satisfactory condition.
GEORGE VAUGHN, 32, of 1817 Ave. 0 1/2 in Galveston, good condition.
LARRY KRENEK, 23, of 1908 50th Street in Galveston, satisfactory condition.
LEROY PRIESTLEY, 18, of 1105 31st St. in Galveston, satisfactory condition.
DONALD PREVOST, 33, of 2315 28th St. in Dickinson, fair condition.
CORNELL SCHULTZ, 26, of 3330 Ave. R in Galveston, satisfactory condition.
ALFRED BROWN, age and address not released,
LEU RICE, age and address not released, treated and released.
ALCIDE J. MARQUER, 55, of 6116 Ave. Q in Galveston, treated and released.
STEVE SIVLEY, 24, of 1026 Brent Oak in Houston, fair condition.
MARILYN RHAMES, 28, of 2218 Glendale in La Marque, fair condition.
DENNIS STEVENS, 27, of 516 4th St. in Galveston, fair condition.
Galveston Daily News Texas 1977-12-29