New London, TX School Explosion, Mar 1937
Joked With Clerk.
MRS. W. H. PHILLIPS had gone to the parent-teachers meeting with her son, JAMES, 5, too young to attend school. Just before 3 o'clock she left the building to shop in a grocery store near the school, leaving JAMES to wait for his brother and sister who still were in their classrooms.
Just as MRS. PHILLIPS reached for her bundles there came a rumbling roar. She thought it was merely an oil tank explosion, a common ocurince[sic] in the community. As she joked with the clerk the siren of an ambulance sounded. It was then that she had the strange foreboding of danger that only a mother can experience.
It Was Her Son
She rushed to the street and ran after the ambulance. Her fears were confirmed when she reached the top of the hill and saw the wrecked building she had left but a few moments before. A man struggled out of the wreckage, carrying the torn body of a child. She glanced at the face of the lifeless body.
It was her son, VIRGIL R. PHILLIPS, a handsome boy of 12.
Immediately after the explosion women ran screaming from their oil field cottages into the roads. Some fainted, stumbled, fell and lay on the thoroughfares as though lifeless. Others knelt in the roads and prayed.
Children from intermediate grades that had just been dismissed ran into the streets, bleeding and screaming.
GEORGE L. HARDY, 63, who recently moved to Arp, hurried to New London. He looked on as mothers carried bodies of their children from the wreckage. He gasped, then fell dead, victim of heart attack induced by shock.
GLOBE REPORTER FINDS HELL ON EARTH AT BLAST SCENE
By BILL SHERRILL
Globe-News Staff Writer
NEW LONDON, Texas, March 19 - Go through hell with me. And it is.
It is almost impossible to describe.
More than 500 bodies in morgues over this beautiful East Texas area. More than that number of parents so grief-stricken they can't recognize you. They don't want to. They couldn't if they wanted to.
I knew people here only last year.
I don't any more.
They don't see me. They don't see anyone. They are only looking for their children -with slight hope.
The death toll. The heaviest for children in the world's history, is almost inconceivable. Yet it is here. You know it when you see bodies, torn and some with dried blood, others bleeding, sprawled in morgues.
There aren't enough morgues, hospitals, or even churches, to care for the dead. Many are placed in private homes.
It makes your heart twinge to hear a radio announcement: "Mrs. So an so, your son is at such and such funeral home in Henderson." Perhaps the parents live in Longview. It doesn't make any difference. They can't segregate all of these broken bodies according to local localities.
I saw scores of mangled bodies, children snuffed out just when they were beginning to know the meaning of anything real, in churches, morgues, and hospitals in Tyler.
Here in Overton, they can't take care of the dead. Automobile sales rooms are loaded with coffins, holding the bodies of the victims. Grocery stores even play host to some of the victims. The entire city's business district, and a part of the residential district, has been transformed into a dreadful conglomeration of dead and injured.
The parents might as well be dead. They know nothing. Their eyes are blind, they are seeking their lost ones. More than 500 bodies have been recovered, but nearly 100 are estimated still in the ruins.
To reach the shambles which was once the proudest rural school building in the world, a plant which cost more than one million dollars, you must run a gauntlet of state soldiers. Highway Patrolmen are everywhere. They demand passes. Well over 300 national, state and local officers are working at the scene, according to Chief of Police FREEMAN of Kilgore, who is assisting in directing relief activities.
It is pouring down rain, everyone of the relief workers is soaked. I helped them for more than an hour this morning, attempting to lift a slab of concrete which they are certain covered the bodies of several victims.
I worked a jack. Did you ever work one on a concrete slab two feet deep, 30 feet long and 20 feet wide? There were a lot of us. Plus a wrecker which did its best, but which in spite of nearly a score of men and three jacks still hadn't moved the structure at noon.
But it had lifted this huge block nearly a foot off the ground. Enough, where by flopping in the mud and gazing under it as I did, you could see the crushed body of a small girl. A pretty girl, apparently, until death struck with such suddenness. A small brunette. Her age was indeterminate, but I guessed it at about 10 or 11.
They still didn't have her body out at noon. But one look was enough for me. I quit. The sight of mangled brains and body, blood over the soaking wet concrete pillar was too much, and there are probably more underneath this huge slab.
The Amarillo Globe Texas 1937-03-19
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