Philadelphia, PA Grain Warehouse Explosion, Mar 1956
4 Die As Mystery Blast Hits Philadelphia Area
Eastern City Explosion Wrecks Grain Warehouse, Fire Spread Threatened
Philadelphia (AP) – A bomb-like explosion Wednesday night demolished a big grain warehouse in the busy 30th and Market St. area of Philadelphia, spread wide damage elsewhere and took the lives of at least four persons.
Police, who reported the dead at four so far, said also that an undetermined number of persons were injured, including 14 night class students at the Drexel Institute of Technology. The institute is one of several major educational, governmental and business institutions within five blocks of the scene of the blast.
The explosion, attributed by some Fire Department officials to heavy accumulation of dust in a grain elevator, started fires which roared through the shell of the granary and threatened to spread to neighboring buildings.
Within an hour after the mid-evening blast, which jolted not only the great sprawling city itself, but suburban sections as well, the situation became something of a citywide emergency.
Police Commissioner Thomas GIBBONS, who said his department had received scores of distress calls from all parts of the city, sent more than 500 policemen to the scene.
One of his lieutenants said a large force was needed to protect people from danger, to assist the firemen, to direct traffic away from the areas of peril, and to guard against looting.
Mayor Richardson DILWORTH went to the scene from a meeting with city commissioners.
The Red Cross put several units in the field and a fleet of ambulances was dispatched from Camden, N. J., across the Delaware River.
West River Drive, one of the main arteries of motor travel from outlying sections into the heart of the city, was closed entirely to traffic.
Some of the heaviest damage was suffered by the Philadelphia Bulletin in its new building, which was occupied only last Memorial Day.
The explosion cast tons of debris onto the large landscaped, brilliantly lighted plaza of the Bulletin, left the lighting system there a tangled wreckage, blasted down the ceiling of the main reception lobby and parts of the ceiling elsewhere in the building.
Police told an Associated Press reporter it was feared at least four persons were trapped in an adjoining building and that because of the flames, it would not be possible to batter a way in for some time.
Passersby told policemen and firemen that they heard cries from the upper floors of the building as flames billowed from the windows.
Even as the sorely pressed firemen and policemen fought the granary flames they were alerted to another blaze, about eight blocks away, in a furniture store. It was not known immediately whether this fresh outbreak was the result of the explosion.
Four hospitals within a mile radius reported that up to 10 p.m., at least 115 persons had been treated for injuries, none of them serious.
Many at work in the Bulletin building probably would have suffered injury had they not been protected by sturdy outside walls with windows set only in part of the first floor frontage. This afforded protection against blast and flying glass.
Smoke blotted out the normally brilliant urban lighting and filled the Bulletin building with its stench.
The wrecked building was owned by the Tidewate Mill and Elevator Co. and stood four stories tall and nearly a block long, in the center of a teeming part of the city.
Directly across Market Street is the Philadelphia Bulletin’s huge new building. Within a block or two are the 30th Street station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the city’s main post office building. On Market Street itself, in this area, workmen have been tearing down the remnants of the old elevated railroad structure, the “El” having been replaced recently by a new stretch of subway.
Employes (sic) of the Bulletin and of The Associated Press, which is quartered in the building, were jolted as if from a big bomb. Windows were shattered over a wide radius. And round about the Bulletin building firemen and policemen – by the hundreds – and the thousands of spectators who gathered in a matter of minutes walked perilously in broken glass and fiery fragments.
Mayor Richardson DILWORTH was on the scene a short while after the blast.
“I was meeting the commissioners over at the Free Library – a good two miles or more from the explosion,” he said.
“We felt the concussion and it blew in a big window. All of us hurried right over.
“It’s unbelievable. We could see debris in the streets blocks before we got here.”
Police Commissioner Thomas GIBBONS said his department was getting scores of distress calls from many parts of the city, in some instances from a distance of two miles and more. Suburban residents, living as far away as 22 miles, reported they felt the blast.
Anderson Herald, Anderson, IN 29 Mar 1956