Baltimore, MD Water Tunnel Explosion, July 1938
TEN WORKERS KILLED IN BALTIMORE EXPLOSION.
PREMATURE BLAST OF DYNAMITE IN WATER TUNNEL.
ONLY FOUR OF CREW ON MONTEBELLO-GUNPOWDER RIVER PROJECT ESCAPE UNHURT.
ACCIDENTAL DISCHARGE OF EXPLOSIVE WAS CAUSE.
ACCIDENT OCCURS JUST BEFORE NIGHT SHIFT LEAVES JOB.
Baltimore, July 20 (AP) -- A premature explosion of 450 pounds of dynamite killed ten members of a crew of eighteen workmen blasting a water tunnel through solid rock 200 feet below the surface near the city pumping station today.
Seven men were killed outright as the burst of rock rolled through the tunnel. Three of the eleven brought to the surface alive died in hospitals. Only four escaped injury.
Officials of the construction company said the blast, which occurred just before the night shift would have left the tunnel, must have been set off by accident while the men were tamping down the huge charge of explosive.
The white members of the crew escaped with their lives. The dead were all Baltimore negroes.
It was the task of the mining crew, working from midnight to 8 a.m., to blast away the rock for the day crew to remove. Disaster came when the final charge of the night exploded prematurely.
Several of the bodies were so mangled that identification was difficult.
PHILIP LESSER, one of the first men brought out of the shaft, suffered painful burns of the face and was unable to tell how the tragedy occurred.
Construction of the 7-mile water tunnel between the Lake Montebello filtration plant and the Gunpowder river was begun in 1927 to provide an additional subterranean viaduct to supplement the Baltimore city water supply. The work which was being done was a $5,000,000 PWA project.
WALTER COLSTON, one of the injured, said fourteen men were tamping the charge of dynamite into a hole in the end of the shaft when the explosion came.
"Just before the shift knocks off it plans a big charge of dynamite," he said. "Then everybody hoofs it up to the shaft-head and from there they explode the charge electrically."
"I stood here a few minutes watching the men load the bore with dynamite -- it was about five minutes of seven -- and all of a sudden there was a flash and a roar that knocked me flat."
"I was dazed and there were a few minutes there when I didn't know just what was happening. But when my head began to clear I discovered I was bleeding from cuts on the scalp and the shaft was filled with sharp smoke and gasses -- in fact, for several minutes the smoke was so think that I couldn't see what had become of the men who had been planting the dynamite charge."
"When the smoke began to thin out a little I saw the men. They were lying all around. Some were under a dirt truck. I walked down and helped pull them out from under the truck and then made my way up to the shaft opening."
The News Frederick Maryland 1938-07-20