Herrin, IL Gas Tank Explosions, Oct 1956



Herrin, Ill. (UP) -- The death toll climbed to seven persons early today in a series of gas tank explosions and fires which rocked residential sections Thursday night, destroying five homes.
The dead include two men, two women, and three children. Six others were injured critically in explosions and fires which erupted after gas
"crawling like it was alive," seeped from a tank loading area into a residential district nearby.
Dead were OSCAR WILLIAMS, 38, his wife, VIOLET, 33, their son FRED, 3; MRS. WILLIAMS' father, FRED KERLEY, 62, and mother ELIZABETH KERLEY, 63; CHARLOTTE JARVIS, 10; ROBERT LEE KELLER, 5.
Doctors at Herrin Hospital, where the injured were treated, still fear the death toll may rise. Bodies of the most seriously injured were 90 per cent covered by burns.
The dead and injured made up two families. The JARVIS girl and KELLER boy were step-children through a previous marriage of their mother, MRS. IMOGENE KELLER, who was among the injured.
Herrin fireman GILBERT WALLACE, one of the men who entered the area before the blasts occurred, told the United Press that when a Herrin fire truck arrived in response to a gas alarm, the gas was coming from the truck "8 to 10 inches deep, and looked like fog. It was hugging the ground, crawling like it was alive."
WALLACE said firemen went to work to clear the area, but the blasts came in first one house and then another before all persons could be taken out.
The Williamson County coroner's office had not yet set a date for an inquest. LOUIS SCHEFFLER, proprietor of the gas service, was in a state of severe shock and state and fire officials had not yet been able to talk to him.
Fire Chief CARL MAYERS blamed the initial explosion on gas seeping from a leaky valve of a propane gas truck at a gas warehouse which was ignited by an open flame -- possibly on a stove or a water heater -- in one of the five houses destroyed.
A warehouse used to store propane gas tanks also was demolished and another house was badly damaged.
Firemen summoned when the gas was noticed spreading over the neighborhood stood by helpless as the first explosion reupted in huge flames.
Seconds later, another explosion shook the area, followed by some 50 propane tanks stored in the warehouse erupting like "rockets in all directions." A witness said the exploding tanks looked like
"flame throwers or blow torches." The exploding tanks hurled metal fragments as far as 100 yards.
Six persons sitting in their yards were enveloped in flames when the gas ignited. None of the warehouse workers unloading gas were injured because they fled to safety before the first explosion.
The injured were rushed to the hospital by neighbors and friends before ambulances arrived. Nearby cities rushed blood supplies to Herrin hospital for transfusions for the injured. FIfteen doctors attending a conference in Herrin aided in treating the victims.
Red Cross officials declared the section a disaster area and made arrangements to provide temporary shelter and food for the homeless.
State fire marshals and Herrin fire officials were to resume their investigation today.
Mayers said the gas apparently leaked from a valve on a truck driven by LEWIS SCHEFFLER, operator of the Herrin Skel-Gas Service. SCHEFFLER had backed the tank truck up to the door of the warehouse, and started to unload the gas.
Fire departments from Culp, Marion, Carterville, Carbondale, West Frankfort and Zeigler sent equipment to bolster the Herrin fire-fighters. In addition, Johnston City and Hurst-Bush sent volunteers to aid authorities in any way they could.
The firemen played the hoses on a Standard Oil Co. storage plant, containing 80,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel oil, near the blast area to prevent the flames from spreading.

The Daily Register Harrisburg Illinois 1956-10-19