Berlin, NY Propane Gas Explosion, July 1962
PROPANE GAS EXPLOSION KILLS DRIVER, INJURES 16.
Berlin, N.Y. (AP) -- At 5:30 p.m. in the picturesque hamlet of Berlin in eastern New York, dinner was on the stove, the men were returning from work, and GENE MERRILLS was standing beside a barn.
"God, it was like a clap of thunder. A bomb. Everything lit up red," MERRILLS said.
A load of propane gas on a tractor-trailer exploded Wednesday, spurting the flaming liquid as far as a half-mile within this community of 490. The truck driver was injured fatally and 16 men, women and children were hospitalized. Ten of them remained in critical condition today.
A dozen homes and the 179-year-old Baptist church were in ruins.
Thunderheads were gathering in the sky as ROBERT J. McLUCAS, 39, of Pomeroy, Pa., took his big truck down the twisting two-mile hill leading into this community folded into a valley between the Grafton Mountains and the Berkshires near the intersection of the New York-Massachusetts-Vermont state lines. At some point, the brakes apparently failed, State Police said, and McLUCAS leaned on his horn in warning as the vehicle picked up speed. Some witnesses said the brakes appeared to be on fire.
About 50 yards from the village square with its Civil War statue, the truck reached a turn near the bottom of the hill. It jackknifed, the trailer broke off.
"There was a pause, then a pop, than a blam. The flames must have gone 150 to 200 feet in the air bright orange." That was the account of HOLDEN GUTERMUTH, 24, who witnessed it from a field.
McLUCAS was blown 350 feet. He died about two hours later.
Postmaster ROBERT MOSES was closing up for the day. He looked at the house he had built himself. "It was terrible. It was a mass of fire." His wife was inside.
Held back by the searing heat, MOSES watched as his wife crawled into the breezeway, then through the garage, over the car and through a window.
She was critically burned.
Three home were enveloped immediately in flames and hunks of fire soared off off to strike in a cray-quilt pattern among the few dozen white clapboard homes in Berling and the church. A barn a half-mile away housing two school buses was ignited.
A man painting his house a quarter-mile away was blown from his ladder.
The immediate blast occurred in front of the home of KENNETH McCUMBER, 53, and his wife, FLORENCE, 55. The house disintegrated.
"You could see the clapboards come right off the place, said CLIFTON SHUHART, who found the McCUMBERS crawling in a field about 400 feet away. They, too, were burned critically.
Next on the hill was the BRAZIE home. Inside were JOHN BRAZIE, 23, his wife, MARY, 18, and their son, JOHN HR., 18 months.
"I saw a woman and baby run out of a house. They were all afire. It was horrible," said MISS LEONA GAYLE JONES, 23, who was driving home from her state job in nearby Albany.
The BRAZIES were in critical condition.
Fire Chief FRANK JONES responded to the alarm and found his own home burning. What he could not find was his wife.
"He's in terrible shape," the Rensselaer County fire coordinator told a newsman at the scene. "He couldn't find his wife. He's just in a daze."
But MRS. JONES was found uninjured at a neighbor's home.
Sixteen fire departments from communities in the county and from Massacuhusetts fought the flames. At least 11 ambulances, 21 state troopers, and 9 sheriff's deputies responded.
Eight of the injured were in Putnam Memorial Hospital, Bennington, Vt., six were in Samaritan Hospital, Troy, N. Y., and two others were discharged after treatment in Troy.
Those at Bennington were:
JOSEPH E. SAURDIFFE, 53, Bennington, Vt., critical.
MRS. DORIS SAURDIFFE, 32, his wife, critical.
MRS. ROSALEE LOKER, 80, Bennington, MRS. SAURDIFFE'S mother, critical.
VICTORIA LOKER, 35, Berlin, MRS. SAURDIFFE'S sister, critical.
FRANK MARCO, 73, Berlin, fair.
MRS. ETHEL FEATHERS, 63, Berlin, fair.
JOHN FEATHERS, 66, Berlin, her husband, fair.
DONNA GENE WAGER, 15, Berlin, fair.
Nashua Telegraph New Hampshire 1962-07-26