Little Bits of History

Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 20, 2014
Leveled area of Cleveland, Ohio

Leveled area of Cleveland, Ohio

October 20, 1944: The Cleveland East Ohio Gas explosion takes place. Liquefied natural gas is predominately methane which has been converted into liquid form for storage or transport purposes. It is much denser taking up only about 1/600th the volume of the gaseous state. It is odorless, colorless, non-toxic, and non-corrosive. It is also flammable. At this time, liquid natural gas was often stored above ground and the East Ohio Gas Company had a tank farm located near Lake Erie on East 61st Street in Cleveland, Ohio. These tank farms were similar in looks to the tanks still seen today which store gasoline.

October 20, 1944 was a Friday and at about 2.30 PM tank number four began to leak. A seam on the side of the tank allowed a vapor to leave the tank. Winds from Lake Erie pushed the vapor in towards the city. Since it was heavier than air, the vapor dropped into sewer lines via catch basins in the street gutters. The gas mixture and the sewer gas combined and the concoction ignited. The resulting explosion blew manhole covers high into the air as jets of fire escaped from the sewer lines. One manhole cover was located several miles east in the Glenville neighborhood.

The initial explosion was thought to be an isolated event and it was felt the disaster was contained. People returned to their homes thinking the fire department had the issue under control. At 3 PM, a second above-ground tank exploded and leveled the entire tank farm. More explosions and more fires followed. People who had returned to the safety of their homes were now trapped by the fires. Not only were the manhole covers a relief valve for the compressed gasses beneath the city, but drains were also an escape hatch and as the gasses were released, home were instantly set ablaze, along with everything and everyone inside them.

Cuyahoga County Coroner, Dr. Samuel Gerber, estimated the initial death toll at 200. He was quoted as saying the magnitude of the fire and the intensity of the heat would have had vaporized human flesh and bone, making an exact count impossible until much later. Fortunately, the death toll was less than Gerber had imagined. In all, 130 people died in the blasts. Another 600 were left homeless. Seventy homes, two factories, uncounted cars, and miles of underground infrastructure were destroyed. Many people not only lost their home, but all their possessions which often included money, stocks, and bonds. It was estimated that between $7 and 15 million in personal and industrial property was lost to the disaster. As a result of this catastrophe, above ground liquid natural gas became less common and underground storage came to be the norm.

Natural gas obviously brings with it a number of quality-of-life environmental benefits because it is a relatively clean-burning fuel. It has a CO2 footprint, but it has no particulates. It has none of the other emissions elements that are of concern to public health that other forms of power-generation fuels do have: coal, fuel oil, others. – Rex Tillerson

Compared to coal, which generates almost half the electricity in the United States, natural gas is indeed a cleaner, less polluting fuel. But compared to, say, solar, it’s filthy. And of course there is nothing renewable about natural gas. – Jeff Goodell

Natural gas is a better transportation fuel than gasoline, so if that’s the case, it’s cheaper, it’s cleaner and it’s a domestic resource. – T. Boone Pickens

Hydraulic fracking is very much a necessary part of the future of natural gas. – Ken Salazar

Also on this day: Subway Vigilante – In 1987, Bernard (Bernie) Goetz was sentenced.
What Big Feet You Have – In 1967, a film of Bigfoot was taken – maybe.
Football Fiasco – In 1851, Johnny Bright was injured on the field.
Kragujevac – In 1941 the Kragujevac massacre began.


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