First Arriving Network
First Arriving Network

Morning Lineup – December 7

Friday Morning – A Forgotten Ka-Boom Remembered

Other tasks kept me busy yesterday and I did not have the time to alert you to the anniversary of a notable event that most of us either never were aware of, or have forgotten it with the passage of time.  It was on that date in 1917 that the entire seaport city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was literally leveled by the largest man-made explosion in history prior to the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945.

The sequence of events leading to the disaster began with a ship collision in the harbor.  A French freighter, the Mont-Blanc, loaded with munitions bound for the war in Europe collided with a Norwegian freighter, the SS Imo in the narrow passage leading to the harbor.  The collision severely damaged the bow of the Mont-Blanc and the captain turned the ship to return to the docks.  A few minutes later a fire started in the cargo and soon there was a column of smoke and fire sprouting from the ship.

The word of the fire spread throughout the city within minutes and thousands of people poured out into the streets and onto the surrounding hills to watch the spectacle.  About 25 minutes after that, as the ship was approaching Pier 6, it blew up with an almighty, never-before seen explosion that hurled fire and chunks of steel into the harbor town killing at least 1,600 people immediately.  Eventually the death toll would pass 2,000.

The star indicates the approximate position of
the Mont-Blanc at the time of the explosion.

The explosion created a tsunami in the harbor that destroyed the entire waterfront and the pressure wave from the ka-boom leveled hundreds of buildings in the entire city.  Windows were broken in buildings 50 miles away.  Wikipedia adds:

Over 1,500 people were killed instantly while 9,000 were injured. Every building within a 26 kilometres (16 mi) radius, over 12,000 total, was destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded when the blast wave shattered the windows in front of them. Stoves and lamps overturned by the force of the blast sparked fires throughout Halifax, particularly in the North End where entire city blocks were caught up in the inferno, trapping residents inside their houses. Firefighter Billy Wells, who was thrown away from the explosion and had his clothes torn from his body, described the devastation survivors faced: "The sight was awful, with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads missing, and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires." He was the only member of the eight-man crew of the fire engine "Patricia" to survive.

Large brick and stone factories near Pier 6, such as the Acadia Sugar Refinery and the Hillis & Sons Foundry, disappeared into unrecognizable heaps of rubble, killing most of their workers. The Nova Scotia cotton mill located 1.5 km (0.93 mile) from the blast was destroyed by fire and the collapse of its concrete floors.

This photograph taken from the Dartmouth side of the harbor
gives a hint of the devastation to the twin cities.

Following the event was a remarkable nation-wide rebuilding effort that is a major story in itself.  To learn more about this forgotten tragedy, enter Halifax explosion in your favorite search engine and you will find a week's worth reading material.  There is also a very good website dedicated to the event  that I can recommend.  Thanks to Mark D. for reminding us about this somber anniversary.

This is a slide-show documentary of the event and aftermath:


With that in mind, let's get the equipment checked out now.  You'll find me at the Bunn-O-Matic getting ready for our break in the day room in a little while.

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