Those who wonder whether a chemical explosion like the one that leveled the port of Beirut and killed more than 100 could happen in the U.S. should consider what happened one spring day in 1947 in the port of Texas City, Texas.
Cargo in the hold of the freighter Grandcamp started smoking. Flames erupted, and a blast so powerful that it could be heard more than 100 miles away destroyed the ship, docks and an adjoining Monsanto chemical plant.
The explosion killed more than 500 people – the exact number was hard to determine because many bodies couldn’t be recovered – making it one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history. The chemical product that exploded on the ship was the same as the one stored in a Beirut warehouse, ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizer.