1937 New London School Explosion, cost-cutting, engineers, Fukushima lessons learned, Leaking Nuclear Reactors, lessons learned, natural gas, natural gas dangers, natural gas explosion, New London School, New London School Lessons Learned, nuclear accidents, nuclear dangers, nuclear evacuation schools, nuclear industry, nuclear leak, nuclear safety, oil and gas industry, Safety, school safety, standards, Texas
“Untreated natural gas is both odorless and colorless, so leaks are difficult to detect and may go unnoticed… the Texas Legislature began mandating within weeks of the explosion that thiols (mercaptans) be added to natural gas. The strong odor of many thiols makes leaks quickly detectable. The practice quickly spread worldwide.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_London_School_explosion
“Dye-Markers have been used to observe“[radioactive] “plumes as far away as 8 miles. First responders and the public need to be able to see a radioactive plume in the event of an emergency at a nuclear power plant – so they can flee away from it, rather than into the path of the plume (a tragedy that happened to school children in Japan). This is a straightforward way to strengthen our emergency preparedness.” http://www.makeradiationvisible.org
The radiation legally, and illegally, emitted from nuclear power stations and nuclear waste “facilities” does not smell and cannot be seen. The same is true of natural gas. However, after the New London School gas explosion in 1937, an odor was added to natural gas. In stark contrast, when the nuclear industry has accidents, governments help it to bury the truth even more deeply! Why the double standard? When there are other industrial accidents there is usually some action, change, and accountability! Not so for the outlaw nuclear industry. The US NRC actually encourages the nuclear industry to simply dilute before emitting radiation into the air and water. Even so, the radiation limit for water exceeds the clean water act. The same is probably true of the clean air act, but it is more difficult to calculate.
Not only was an odor added to natural gas, but new rules were put in place regarding licensing of engineers. Notice the role of cost cutting, not following the original plan, and faulty installation in this accident. Additionally students had complained of headaches and were ignored. Then, of course, one spark set off an explosion which destroyed a steel and concrete building. There are many lessons here which could be learned by the nuclear industry, but the nuclear industry has been allowed to be above the law. The quick mobilization of helpers to the site is also remarkable. Lessons were learned from this 1937 accident. Little to nothing appears to have been learned from Fukushima. Any lessons learned from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Windscale, appear forgotten.
New School Building
“New London School explosion
1937 newsreel: http://youtu.be/0_zm7AWKYrE
Time 3:05 – 3:20 PM Central Time
Date: March 18, 1937
Location New London, Texas
The New London School explosion occurred on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas leak caused an explosion, destroying the London School of New London, Texas, a community in Rusk County previously known as “London”. The disaster killed more than 295 students and teachers, making it the deadliest school disaster in American history. As of 2014, the event is the third deadliest disaster in the history of Texas, after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, and the 1947 Texas City Disaster.
In the mid-1930s, the Great Depression was in full swing, but the London school district was one of the richest in America. A 1930 oil find in Rusk County had boosted the local economy, and educational spending grew with it. The London School, a large structure of steel and concrete, was constructed in 1932 at a cost of $1 million (approx $15.75 million in 2009 dollars). The London Wildcats (a play on the term “wildcatter”, for an oil prospector) played football in the first stadium in the state to have electric lights.
London School before the explosion
The school was built on sloping ground, and a large dead-air space was contained beneath the structure. The school board had overridden the original architect’s plans for a boiler and steam distribution system, instead opting to install 72 gas heaters throughout the building.
Early in 1937, the school board canceled their natural gas contract and had plumbers install a tap into Parade Gasoline Company’s residue gas line in order to save money. This practice, while not explicitly authorized by local oil companies, was widespread in the area. The natural gas extracted with the oil was seen as a waste product and was flared off. As there was no value to the natural gas, the oil companies turned a blind eye. This “raw” or “wet” gas varied in quality from day to day, even from hour to hour.
Untreated natural gas is both odorless and colorless, so leaks are difficult to detect and may go unnoticed. Gas had been leaking from the residue line tap, and built up inside an enclosed crawlspace that ran the entire 253-foot (77 m) length of the building’s facade. Students had been complaining of headaches for some time, but little attention had been paid to it.
March 18 was a Thursday. Friday’s classes had been canceled to allow for students to participate in the neighboring city of Henderson’s Interscholastic Meet, a scholastic and athletic competition. Following the school’s normal schedule, first through fourth grade students had been let out early. A PTA meeting was being held in the gymnasium, a separate structure roughly 100 feet (30 m) from the main building.
At some time between 3:05 and 3:20PM Central (local) time, Lemmie R. Butler (an “instructor of manual training”) turned on an electric sander. It is believed that the sander’s switch caused a spark that ignited the gas-air mixture.
Reports from witnesses state that the walls of the school bulged, the roof lifted from the building, and then crashed back down and the main wing of the structure collapsed. The force of the explosion was so great that a two-ton concrete block was thrown clear of the building and crushed a 1936 Chevrolet parked nearby. Approximately 600 students and 40 teachers were in the building at the time.
The explosion was its own alarm, heard for miles. The most immediate response was from parents at the PTA meeting. Within minutes, area residents started to arrive and began digging through the rubble, many with their bare hands. Roughnecks from the oil fields were released from their jobs, and brought with them cutting torches and heavy equipment needed to clear the concrete and steel.
London School bus driver Lonnie Barber was transporting elementary students to their homes, and was in sight of the school as it exploded. Barber continued his two hour route, returning children to their parents before rushing back to the school to look for his four children. His son Arden died, but the others were not seriously injured. Barber retired the next year.
Aid poured in from outside the area. Governor James Allred dispatched Texas Rangers, highway patrol, and the Texas National Guard. Thirty doctors, 100 nurses, and 25 embalmers arrived from Dallas. Airmen from Barksdale Field, deputy sheriffs, and even Boy Scouts took part in the rescue and recovery.
Of the more than 600 people in the school, only about 130 escaped without serious injury. Estimates of the number dead vary from 296 to 319, but that number could be much higher, as many of the residents of New London at the time were transient oilfield workers, and there is no way to determine for certain how many of these roughnecks collected the bodies of their children in the days following the disaster and returned them to their respective homes for burial. Most of the bodies were either burned beyond recognition, or blown to pieces. One mother had a heart attack and died when she found out that her daughter died, with only part of her face, her chin and a couple of bones recovered. Another boy was identified by the presence of the pull string from his favorite top in his jeans pocket.
Rescuers worked through night and rain, and 17 hours later, the entire site had been cleared. Buildings in the neighboring communities of Henderson, Overton, Kilgore and as far away as Tyler and Longview were converted into makeshift morgues to house the enormous number of bodies, and everything from family cars to delivery trucks served as hearses and ambulances. A new hospital, Mother Frances Hospital in nearby Tyler, was scheduled to open the next day, but the dedication was canceled and the hospital opened immediately.
Reporters who arrived in the city found themselves swept up in the rescue effort. Former Dallas Times Herald executive editor Felix McKnight, then a young AP reporter, recalled, “We identified ourselves and were immediately told that helpers were needed far more than reporters.” Walter Cronkite also found himself in New London, on one of his first assignments for United Press. Although Cronkite went on to cover World War II and the Nuremberg trials, he was quoted as saying decades later, “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.”
Not all of the buildings on the 10-acre (40,000 m2) campus were destroyed. One of the surviving buildings, the gymnasium, was quickly converted into multiple classrooms. Inside new tents and the modified buildings, classes resumed 10 days later.
The majority of the victims of the explosion are buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery, near New London.
Adolf Hitler, who was the German Chancellor at the time, paid his respects in the form of a telegram, a copy of which is on display at the London Museum.
Experts from the United States Bureau of Mines concluded that the connection to the residue gas line was faulty. The connection had allowed gas to leak into the school, and since natural gas is invisible and is odorless, the leak was unnoticed. The sanding machine’s switch is believed to have caused a spark that ignited the gas-air mixture. To reduce the damage of future leaks, the Texas Legislature began mandating within weeks of the explosion that thiols (mercaptans) be added to natural gas. The strong odor of many thiols makes leaks quickly detectable. The practice quickly spread worldwide.
Shortly after the disaster, the Texas Legislature met in emergency session and enacted the Engineering Registration Act (now rewritten as the Texas Engineering Practice Act). Public pressure was on the government to regulate the practice of engineering due to the faulty installation of the natural gas connection; Carolyn Jones, a nine year old survivor, spoke to the Texas Legislature about the importance of safety in schools. The use of the title “engineer” in Texas remains legally restricted to those who have been professionally certified by the state to practice engineering.
A lawsuit was brought against the school district and the Parade Gasoline Company, but the court ruled that neither could be held responsible. Superintendent W.C. Shaw was forced to resign amid talk of a lynching. Shaw lost a son in the explosion.
A new school was completed in 1939 on the property, directly behind the location of the destroyed building. The school remained known as the London School until 1965 when London ISD consolidated with Gaston ISD, the name was changed to West Rusk High School, and the mascot was changed to the Raiders.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_London_School_explosion (Emphasis our own)