Wood River, IL Oil Refinery Explosion, Sep 1951
13 PERISH IN WOOD RIVER EXPLOSION.
DISASTER AT SHELL REFINERY.
PANIC BREAKS OUT IN SPECIAL NIGHT SHIFT AS FLAMES LASH OUT AFTER BLAST.
20 PERSONS ARE SERIOUSLY HURT.
CAUSE OF EXPLOSION AT OIL CRACKING UNIT IS UNKNOWN. SECOND MAJOR MISHAP IN MONTH.
By Associated Press.
Wood River, Ill., Sept. 18 - A terrific explosion rocked the big Shell Oil Co. refinery here last night killing 13 workmen.
About 20 persons were injured seriously.
The explosion occurred at one of the refinery's large oil cracking units where a special night crew was working.
Panic broke out as flames lashed out from the explosion and enveloped workers.
Four bodies were recovered soon after the blast. Eight other men died at hospitals a few hours later.
"I saw men knocked to the ground," WILLIE BURCHELL, 47, of East Alton, Ill., a boilermaker's helper, said.
"They were screaming and begging for help, running with their clothes afire."
BURCHELL was atop a pump-house, 20 feet above the ground. There were four or five explosions beneath him. Blocked by flames, he reached safety by sliding down an eight-inch pipe to the ground where flames licked at his legs as he leaped.
The seriously injured were rushed to hospitals here and at Alton, Ill. All were badly burned. Others injured were treated at the refinery.
Those who died at hospitals were identified as:
ROBERT McGREGOR, 30, Alton, a mechanical engineer.
MALCOLM CURTIS, 36, Wood River, Ill., a pipe-fitter.
HARRY OLLERTON, 35, Livingston, Ill., pipefitter's helper.
ELVIN RAY, 39, Sorento, Ill., pipefitter's helper.
LOUIS W. DIKE, 50, East Alton, Ill.
JOSEPH MANGERS, 36, Alton.
EDWARD E. GRANER, Brighton, Ill.
JOSEPH R. SULLIVAN, 37, Roxana, Ill.
CORLAND W. KING, New Douglas, Ill.
One of the dead at the scene was listed as HENRY LAMB, 43, Alton, a pipefitter foreman. The bodies recovered at the scene were badly charred.
The other charred bodies removed from the blast were identified as:
M. G. McMILLEN, 41, Wood River, Ill., an operator first class at the cracking plant.
F. G. PLUMMER, 27, Grafton, Ill., a boilermaker's helper.
R. B. RYAN, 38, Caseyville, Ill., boilermaker's foreman.
A flash fire following the explosion shot flames more than 50 feet into the air. It was quickly snuffed out by company firefighters, but the intense heat hung on keeping rescue workers from probing deep into the debris.
Cause of the explosion - the second major mishap at the refinery in less than a month - was not definitely determined. A company spokesman said a number of things may have caused it, including a pocket of gas or static electricity. A company official estimated damage might exceed $100,000.
Only last August 21, a fire created by lightning striking a gasoline storage tank caused $175,000 damage.
Normally 14 to 16 men are in the night crew, but approximately 40 men were in the area as members of a special cleaning unit at the time of the explosion.
L. F. SMITH, working about 100 feet away from the cracking unit which breaks down crude oil into high test gas, said the blast
"shook our building like a leaf."
"We saw two men running down the road with their clothing aflame. Another man tore off his clothes while he was still running. We couldn't hear the men screaming but we saw them. It was awful."
Mt. Vernon Register-News Illinois 1951-09-18