Kenvil, NJ Hercules Powder Company Explosion, Sept 1940
Rescue workers, believed that the casualty list would grow all day. Some of the ruins, covering more than a square mile, had not been explored for bodies, and several of the injured were near death. Small dynamite drums lay on the grounds, a peril to the rescuers. One of them exploded early this morning with a roar heard several miles away.
The dead were laid in an improvised morgue, the injured distributed among hospitals at nearby Dover and Morristown. Most survivors were dazed for hours, and none had a clear idea of what had happened.
The scene this morning was a blackened, flattened ruin, littered with debris, surrounded by seared grass and trees, guarded by soldiers, marine and state highway patrolmen and overhung by a great pall of smoke. Fire apparatus, ambulances and hearses from more than 20 towns were nearby. Spectators were kept three miles away. Among them were relatives of the missing and unidentified dead, and surviving workmen of the plant, some of them in bandages.
Hunt said that the plant had employed from 1,000 to 1,200 men working in three shifts and that about 400 were on the grounds at the time of the explosion. There were 75 in the solvent recovery plant and approximately 30 in the other seven buildings of the production line. The solvent recovery unit had been put into operation last week when production was stepped up and 97 more men put to work to speed up Government defense orders.
Hunt, who estimated the loss at $1,000,000, said the plant was working almost entirely on explosives for the Army and that none of its orders were for Great Britain.
A few hours before the explosion, the War Department in Washington had awarded a new $500,000 contract to the Hercules firm, and less than an hour before it, the company had announced that it was building a new plant at Belvidere, N. J., to help handle the rush of orders. The company, formerly a branch of the DuPont Company, operates six plants and has received $40,000,000 worth of Government contracts in the last three months. The Kenvil plant was the only one making smoke-less powder. The others produce dynamite.