Nanaimo, BC Powder Plant Explosion, Jan 1903
BLOWN TO ATOMS NEAR NANAIMO.
EXPLOSION IN HAMILTON POWDER CO.'S WORKS ON VANCOUVER ISLAND, BRINGS INSTANT DEATH TO TWELVE -- BODIES OF ELEVEN VICTIMS, ALL CHINESE, WILL NEVER BE RECOVERED -- WINDOWS BROKEN THREE MILES FROM THE SCENE.
Vancouver, B.C., Jan. 14. -- Twelve men were killed today by an explosion at the works of the Hamilton Powder company, Departure Bay. It was the worst powder explosion ever known in British Columbia.
The dead are:
FULFORD leaves a widow and three children. SIMONETTI was recently married. The body of one Chinese was recovered. The other eleven victims were absolutely blown into fragments.
The cause of the disaster may never be known. The management of the works is unable to assign a cause and no witnesses survived. There was first an explosion in the gun cotton storage house, the concussion exploding the gelatinite mining house 400 feet away, where the greatest loss of life occurred.
The ground was excavated to a depth of six feet where the building stood and all the structures were blown into kindling, while fragments of human flesh were scattered over several acres. The tramway was torn up and lengths of steel rails turned around trees like whip-cords.
The force of the explosion was so great that it broke windows in the town of Nanaimo, three miles from the scene of the disaster. The only surving employee of the powder works ingaged at the plant when the explosion occurred was James Preston, nitro-glycerine maker, who had a miraculous escape and who owes his life to his coolness. He was running his machine in an attached building 500 feet from the scene of the first explosion. He was thrown on the top of the machinery and a window and a portion of the wall blown in, but he kept the machinery running in spite of the concussion, which almost stopped it. Preston did not leave his post, preventing a third explosion.
An excavation six feet deep marks the spot where the buildings stood. The railway track nearby was torn up and two rails twisted like corkscrews around the trunks of trees. One large tree was cut off fifteen feet above the ground. In a building 400 feet away George Preston was engaged in the most dangerous process of all in the mixing room. The doors and windows around him were blown in, and one side of the building was wrecked. He, himself, was flung on the machinery, but to allow the work to stop, however, at the stage which it had reached, meant a third disaster, and, with great coolness and courage, he stayed at his post and kept the machinery going until his task was completed.
Two men inside another building nearby had a very narrow escape. The walls were blown in and timbers fell, but they were uninjured. The cause of the explosion can only be surmised. The company was very busy with a large order of gelignite for Texada and other mines. FULFORD, usually employed in the dynamite room, had left his regular work and was temporarily assisting SIMONETTI. They and ten Chinamen are supposed to have been busy in the gelignite room when one of them went to the gun-cotton room to weigh out some gun-cotton. Then the accident happened, but of the direct cause nothing is known.
The concussion was felt as far as Ladysmith (forty miles away). In Nanaimo the roar of the explosion was terrifying. All over the city glass in windows facing the north crashed into fragments. Buildings shook and people rushed into the streets, fearing a disaster had occurred in the mines.
Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba 1903-01-15