Smithfield, NC Ammunition Truck Explosion, Mar 1942

DELAYED BLAST OF AMMUNITION TRUCK, AFIRE AFTER COLLISION, KILLS 5 PERSONS, INJURES 100.

HOTEL, FILLING STATION AND TAVERN, LEVELED; 30 FEET OF PAVING WRECKED.

Smithfield, N. Car., (AP) -- At least five persons were killed and more than 100 were reported injured near here early Saturday in the delayed explosion of a fire-ridden ammunition laden truck, the detonation of which was heard over a radius of 50 miles in eastern North Carolina.
A hotel, a filling station and a tavern were leveled to the ground and windows in Selma, a town about two miles away, were shattered. The cement highway under the truck was ripped wide and deep for a distance of 30 feet.
Dr. E. N. Booker, Johnston County Coroner, said that at least five persons were injured fatally, two of them in an automobile which he said failed to observe highway patrol warnings. The others were killed in the leveling of the Talton Hotel.
Dr. Booker said that GEORGE STROUP of Gastonia and CECIL PROPST of Lawndale, in the automobile, were told that they would proceed around the truck, earlier involved in a collision with an automobile at the roadside community, at their own risk.
"They decided to take the chance of proceeding on their way," the coroner said, "and just as they got almost even with the truck it exploded with a terrible noise which was heard in Rocky Mount, 50 miles away, reported they heard.
Two of the killed in the hotel were MRS. MINNIE LEWIS, Raleigh, N.C. and BUCK MITCHELL, 46, Dunn, N.C.
The injured were taken to hospitals in Smithfield, Goldsboro and Raleigh.
Dr. Booker said that all buildings within some 300 yards of the explosion were badly damaged or leveled and that half the store windows in Selma were blown out.
Most of the casualties were bystanders who had watched the truck burn for almost two hours before exploding.
State Highway Patrolman H. C. Bobbitt said the explosion, heard 25 miles away, occurred at 3 a.m. The auto-truck collision took place at 1:15 a.m. and fireman summoned from nearby Selma and Smithfield had succeeded in extinguishing the fire in the automobile when they were forced to return to their stations for water.
Bystanders and persons in the nearby Talton Hotel and Gurkins Tavern in the roadside community watched as the flames gained headway again and soon consumed the truck.
"Suddenly the truck exploded and Luke Capps' filling station, about 150 yards away, and behind which I was sitting in my car, was leveled to the ground," Bobbitt said.
"My car was demolished and only by the grace of God am I living to tell the details."
The truck, Bobbitt said, was owned and operated by Hughes Transportation Corporation of Charleston, S. Car., and driven by RAYMOND AVERY, also of Charleston, who was only slightly injured. It was enroute to Baltimore.
"The automobile caught on fire almost immediately after the collision and sprayed the truck with gasoline," Bobbitt said.
"But the truck did not immediately catch fire."
"The firemen were making fine headway in controlling the blaze when the water gave out," he continued.
"We then cleared the highway of spectators for a distance of at least 200 yards but several of the buildings destroyed were within the area which we had cleared and some of those injured were in te buildings.
"The long burning fire, which lit up the heavens for miles around, naturally attracted folk from a wide area and it was difficult to keep them back from the scene."

Mason City Globe Gazette Iowa 1942-03-07