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1955 Whiting refinery hearth ranks as catastrophic industrial accident
Up to date on August 24, 2015 Robert Kostanczuk moreContact Writer Documentary examines the Indiana conflagration that raged for days at Standard Oil plant
Story by Robert Kostanczuk
In the early morning of Aug. 27, 1955, the standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., was rocked by a titanic explosion.
The destruction that adopted nonetheless ranks as probably the most monumental industrial accidents in United States history — 60 years later.
An estimated 1.25 million barrels of crude oil and refined product burned and went up in smoke.
Combating the hearth didn’t totally come to an end for eight days — it smoldered for that lengthy.
In its coverage of the disaster, The Gary Post-Tribune mentioned that one storage tank was still belching black smoke as the catastrophe entered “its second week. br>A 3-year-outdated boy was killed when a big, torpedo-like chunk of steel from the blast soared by way of the air from no less than a quarter-mile away and tore by way of the highest of his house, putting him in the bedroom.
The boy’s 8-yr-outdated brother — who was in the identical room — also was hit by the flying debris and had a leg severed within the 2600 block of Schrage Ave.
A plant supervisor in his early 60s died of a heart attack when he arrived on the engulfed refinery to help battle the disaster.
Dozens of individuals had been injured, several houses have been destroyed and lots of more were substantially broken.
Refinery employees and firefighters from surrounding cities, who, mixed, numbered within the 1000’s, fought the inferno for days.
I know these info because I wrote a detailed retrospective on the conflagration to mark the 50th anniversary of the catastrophe in 2005.
I had a private curiosity within the story that I did for the Publish-Tribune of northwest Indiana.
My elementary-grades training occurred at Whiting’s Immaculate Conception Faculty, situated just several blocks from the refinery.
My family lived on the 2400 block of White Oak Avenue — the second road over from the refinery that sits along Lake Michigan.
I used to be 10 months previous when, at around 6:12 a.m., my neighborhood was rocked when the 26-story tall Fluid Hydroformer Unit seven hundred blew apart — the results of a combustible mix of gases and oxygen.
The nightmare had begun for the 1,600-acre Customary plant.
Sheets of flames shot a half-mile or more into the air. A dense, gargantuan mushroom cloud of smoke billowed a few miles into the sky.
The Saturday blast at FHU 700 prompted a horrifying shaking of my home. One of many members of my family recalls her bedroom window being shattered. We needed to evacuate and stay with family members for quite some time.
Flying metal rocketed for about two blocks before demolishing a garage. A grocery store was leveled. Numerous home windows have been broken.
For my 50th anniversary story, I interviewed a sixty eight-12 months-previous Whiting resident who lived simply a few blocks from the refinery when its gigantic hydroformer exploded in 1955.
He mentioned the concussive pressure “blew me out of bed. br>The destruction of FHU seven hundred set off a series of oil-tank blasts.
When it was all said and finished, greater than 60 mammoth storage tanks had been destroyed.
Together with the 60th anniversary of the standard Oil catastrophe in 2015, the brief documentary — “One Minute After Sunrise” — might be proven freed from charge at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27, within the Whiting Highschool Auditorium. The film includes recollections from numerous individuals in regards to the massive industrial accident. DVDs of “One Minute After Sunrise” will likely be out there for $12 at the showing.
Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura was born the yr after the refinery disaster, however he realizes the reminiscence of it lingers in his group.
“It’s form of embedded in people’s minds; it was in all probability a fairly amazing and horrific sight at that time, Stahura advised me in a current interview.
The mayor has had a private stake within the oil business that’s part of the very fiber of Whiting, which has been promoted because the “Little City on Lake Michigan. Stahura said he worked at the refinery for almost 23 years before becoming mayor, having been employed there when the plant went by way of title transitions — from Amoco, to BP Amoco to just BP, the refinery’s present title.
The refining of crude oil into gasoline is, you might say, a part of Whiting’s persona.
Whiting — now with a population of about 5,000 — celebrated its centennial in 1989 based mostly on when the usual Oil Company broke floor for its refinery in Whiting, which was 1889.
Whiting was not formally integrated as a city till 1903.
2003 marked the last yr Stahura was employed at the refinery, where he labored in the operations department and ultimately turned a training coordinator in that department who handled safety points.
Stahura, fifty eight, expressed optimism that a repeat of an industrial accident on the size of the 1955 incident could be avoided.
“I don’t suppose something like that might even happen in today’s world with all of the safeguards and safety gear put in place, he mentioned.
That, for me, is a comforting opinion.
The horrid expertise of Aug. 27, 1955, is something you don’t need to relive.
One of the vital haunting photographs from the blast appeared within the Submit-Tribune.
The nighttime photograph reveals two of the Indiana National Guardsmen who have been referred to as in to keep onlookers from getting too close to the dangerous accident site, and to guard the peace and stop looting.
As refinery flames roar in the background, the two helmeted guardsmen stand alone a deserted street with what appear to be rifles strapped to their shoulders.
You possibly can nearly really feel the eerie quiet and sense the ravaged, desolate landscape.
Many tons of of residents who lived near the standard Oil plant had already been evacuated.
I don’t like using the time period “war zone to describe scenes that aren’t actually a part of army battle, but on this case, the National-Guardsmen picture actually did convey the texture of a war zone.
Part of the Nationwide Guardsmen’s responsibilities was to maintain site visitors away from Indianapolis Boulevard, which borders the refinery.
It was reported that parts of the boulevard melted from flaming gasoline.
Amazingly, the standard Oil refinery was again at regular crude-barrel production levels about three months after the explosions and blaze.
At present, the BP Whiting Refinery stays a vital source of revenue for the city.
“It’s our largest taxpayer, Stahura famous. “They’re great partners with us proper now. They make use of a ton of individuals. br>The petroleum mecca also keeps the community’s century-old “Oil City identity going.
Whiting High school sports groups are named the Oilers.
Nightmare hit small city within the ’50s
Hellish smoke from refinery billowed skyward
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