Cleveland, OH Clinic Explosion and Fire, May 1929
CLEVELAND HOLOCAUST STRUCK WITHOUT WARNING, SPREADING POISONOUS GAS.
FIRE QUICKLY FOLLOWS IN WAKE OF DEADLY FUMES.
SECOND EXPLOSION SPREADS TERROR AS PEOPLE FALL IN THEIR TRACKS -- DOCTORS, NURSES AND PATIENTS OVERCOME AND DIE IN AGONY AS GAS KEEPS RESCUERS FROM COMING TO THEIR AID -- MOST DREADFUL DISASTER EVER KNOWN IN CLEVELAND -- DEATH LIST GROWS AS VICTIMS SUCCUMB IN HOSPITALS.
Cleveland, May 15 -- (AP) -- Poison gas and two explosions which followed burning of X-ray films in the Cleveland clinic today claimed nearly 100 lives.
Tonight there were 98 known dead and hospital authorities worked desperately to administer artificial respiration to 43 others who were overcome. Victims of the disaster were dying at short intervals and physicians sent out appeals for additional oxygen in the fear that the supply in the city might prove insufficient. Oxygen is declared the only effective means of overcoming the gas burns.
Nearly all of the deaths were attributed to the deadly gas which filtered through the four story brick building slowly at first and then, augmented by a second and greater explosion than the first, rushed up from the basement and cut off escape down the stairways and elevators.
Survivors said those asphyxiated were dead, their faces turning yellowish brown color within two minutes after inhaling the gas.
The fumes were given off by fire of undetermined origin which destroyed X-ray films in the basement. Some pharmacists saidit was bromine gas, while DR. WILLIAM E. LOWER, one of the founders of the clinic, said it resembled the deadly phosgene gas employed in the World war.
It was ironic that the disaster occurred in the very place where the most advanced instruments and laboratories of science had been turned against pain and death. The clinic was owned principally by DR. GEORGE W. CRILE, nationally known physician, who was too occupied with relief work to comment of the catastrophe.
Despite the heavy loss of life, firemen estimated the property damage at only $50,000.
The dead were patients, doctors, and nurses who filled the four-story structure at 11:30 o'clock the busiest hour of the morning.
The first explosion came when X-ray films stored in the basement caught fire releasing deadly fumes. The fumes penetrated to the waiting room on the floors above.
The hollow center of the building soon filled with gases. The intense heat below sent the fumes swirling upward. Before any one had opportunity to escape a second blast blew out the skylight and filled every corner of the building with the deadly bromine gas.
Occupants had no way of escape but the windows, and few were able to reach them. These were enveloped in the fumes which hung about the building and they collapsed.
The two street entrances were choked, and the stairways leading to the roof were heavy with fumes. Every piece of fire apparatus available was centered at the clinic and every vehicle possible was commandeered to remove the bodies. An hour and a half later all had been taken to nearby hospitals.
The first blast was heard by Police HENRY THORPE, walking two blocks away. He immediately turned in an alarm and ran to the building, at Euclid avenue and 93rd street.
A block away he was blinded by the gas. The first firemen to arrive turned in a second alarm and police, hospital and county morgue ambulances were concentrated about the building.
Battalion Fire Chief JAMES P. FLYNN, with his driver, LOUIS HILLENBRAND, were the first to enter the building. They reached the roof and chopped a hole leading to a stairway, then dropped a ladder to the fourth floor landing. Below they found sixteen bodies, one a doctor and another a nurse, strewn along the staircase.
The physician, DR. J. L. LOCKE, was taken out first and was revived. Five of the others were taken to the roof and carried down ladders as arriving firemen battered in windows to reach those inside.
Ambulances and taxicabs were used to take them to hospitals. DR. GEORGE W. CRILE, head of the clinic, gave orders that all victims be taken to the closest source of oxygen, their only hope of life.