Houston, TX Factory Explosion, Aug 1960




Houston -- The quick flash of an explosion in a lacquer oven ripped the Rheem Manufacturing Co. plant here Monday, killing three men and sending 12 to hospitals.
At least eight of those hospitalized were seriously injured.
Peter J. Dedeo, manager of the plant which manufactures water heaters, estimated damage at $500,000.
The blast tore through the block-long oven, collapsed a 150-foot section of the steel frame building, broke gas lines in the ceiling and set the gas afire.
Killed were JACOB FLOYD McKNIGHT, 55, plant superintendent; RAYMOND W. MOBLEY, 37; and GEORGE H. GREENE, 43.
GREENE was the first victim to be identified. His charred body was found in the debris of the tank assembly line. He was burned in a flash fire that followed the blast. Ironically, it was his first day back on the job following a vacation.
The blast and subsequent fire erupted without warning in the block-long oven used ini manufacturing 55-gallon barrels.
The company makes tanks, barrels and containers and has 27 plants in the United States and eight other countries.
A company spokesman said the plant here also makes specialized steel containers but does not deal in classified materials as Civil Defense authorities reported earlier.
Eighty men were at work at the plant.
Dedeo said the explosion apparently occurred from accumulated gas at the oven and was set off by an automatic pilot light. The oven bakes lacquer onto the barrels.
"There was one loud explosion and one quick flash," recounted A. E. MAYFIELD, 57, a materials man who was at an end of the plant away from the explosion.
"The place filled with smoke and asbestos which had lined the oven."
"Asbestos hung from pipes and other fixtures."
"I ran to where the explosion centered. I saw several people who had been burned and hurt."
"I helped several. One was so bad I didn't move him, but put a makeshift pillow under his head."
Fire spurted for a time from broken gas pipes in the ceiling. Huge air ducts dangled from wires or damaged braces.
A huge electrical transformer at the end of the plant where the explosion occurred was shattered.
The plant remained virtually undamaged outside the barrel room.
"All four walls blew out," said Mrs. Pearl Hennessy, who works in an office next door. "The roof first held, then it collapsed. It shook our building like an earthquake."
"The force of the explosion blew out the door," an unidentified witness said.
"There was a terrific noise and the whole place shook," Dedeo said. "I ran to the office as the windows shattered. I pulled one girl from under a table where whe had been thrown by the blast, and found another girl pinned against the wall."
A sign on the plant's cafeteria wall read: "1,171,221
man-hours without a lost time accident."
For PHILLIP COMARDO, one of the injured, it was the second disaster. In 1952, his arm was amputated at the elbow when it got caught in a machine. He was badly burned Monday.
The explosion took place about 1 p.m. while many of the workers were still eating lunch. Dedeo was in the company cafeteria when he heard an electrical short circuit at a bank of transformers outside. The explosion followed.
Bert Gilliam, 39, the building engineer, gave this description of the damage:
"Water poured from several burst pipes in the back room. The walls were off the south end and west side of the shop building."
There was wreckage all over the south half of the building. The roof was torn off at least a third of the way back. Water poured in from several of the mains in the back.
The more seriously injured were listed as COMARDO, 46, third degree burns over 90 per cent of his body.
FRED A. EDWARDS, 40, facial and possible internal injuries.
AUBREY L. FREEMAN, 48, bruised ribs and injured ear drums.
CLAUDE B. GOODWIN, 59, burns, broken leg and broken ribs.
NACHON (BUCH) JEU, 41, facial burns and shock.
KENNETH E. SUTER, 39, shock.

Avalanche Journal Lubbock Texas 1960-08-16