Thursday, December 06, 2007

Because some things should be remembered

I'd heard of this before, but not this much detail. It was the last few sentences that got to me.

This is straight out of today's Writer's Almanac.

It was on this day in 1917 that an accidental explosion destroyed a quarter of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was the height of World War I, and Halifax was serving as an important port city for many of the ships carrying supplies for the battlefront. One of the ships coming into the port that day was a French supply ship called the Mont Blanc, carrying 200 tons of TNT, 2300 tons of other explosives, as well as ten tons of cotton, and thirty-five tons of highly flammable chemicals stored in vats on the ship's upper deck. On its way into port, the Mont Blanc collided with a Norwegian freighter, which started a fire, and the crew of the Mont Blanc piled into lifeboats and then paddled frantically away.

The fire on the Mont Blanc drew a crowd of onlookers along the shore of the channel. The docks filled with spectators, trams slowed down, people stood at office windows and on factory roofs to see the blaze. Then, a few minutes after the fire had started, the Mont Blanc exploded. It was the single most powerful man-made explosion at that point in human history.

The blast wave of water hit the shore, sweeping away buildings, bridges, roads, vehicles, and people. City streets split open. Houses, churches, schools, and factories collapsed. Virtually every building in the city had its windows broken. About a quarter of the city, was completely destroyed. More than 2,000 people were killed and more than 9,000 were injured. It was the worst disaster of any kind in Canadian history.

One of the only people who had known about the cargo of the ship was a dispatcher at the yardmaster's office. As soon as he'd realized what was happening, he began telegraphing warnings around the city, and he kept sending out warnings even though he knew that an explosion could come at any minute. He died at his post.


Kay said...

I've never heard that story, not being well educated in Canadian History.
It's a great story. Very tragic and very meaningful. I hope his telegraphs made a difference.

Megan DiMaria said...

Wow. What a story. Sounds like it should be a book or a movie. Are you up for that, Susan?

A prisoner of hope,

The Koala Bear Writer said...

I'd heard this story before, somewhere, but can't remember where now... very powerful for sure.

Angela said...

My book club read a book with this story in it . . . I *think* it was Anita Shreve's A WEDDING IN DECEMBER.

I'd never heard of it at the time, but wow, the force of that explosion. After reading the novel, I feel like I lived through it.


ccap said...

Hey, lady, this is from December 6th! It is currently December 21st. Time for a new post. Did you want me to provide you with a topic?